A news release has delighted some and annoyed others: spelling will once again be taken into account in the assessments of Cuban schools. The reign of the missing accents and of “s” replaced by “c” is about to end, according to an announcement made on TV a few weeks ago. Students could fail an exam or even have to repeat the school year if they don’t master the rules of spelling the complex and beautiful language that is Spanish. We linguists, as expected, are giddy with relief.
I had already become accustomed to deciphering strange words composed according to the personal tastes of each writer. Even on the blackboards, written by the teachers themselves, the terminology of a new language appeared, adhering to no rules or standards. Not even my self-assured phonetics, where the “h” has always seemed unnecessary, could remain calm in the face of five-letter words with four errors. I’m not exaggerating; once I reviewed a history exam where someone had written “sibir” for “civil”. Of course in that case they were talking about a concept little known in a society like this one, where citizens are considered soldiers, not entities with rights.
One day I got a major fright, however, when I was dictating to the amusing students at a secondary school in Zanja Street. I happened to come across, on the list of words, the title of the greatest classic of Hispanic letters. It was a way of reviewing the figure of Cervantes without overloading the test with complicated words such as “shortages” or “proposition.” The truth is that on reviewing the sheets from that day I found at least a couple of students who had spelled “Quixote” with a “K”. I could not believe that someone would use a letter with such a small presence in the Spanish dictionaries to write the symbol of our Spanish heritage.
Since that day I understood that spelling is the expression of a general culture that has its basis in reading and books. How can one ask them to use the appropriate consonants if they don’t even know the meaning and history and certain words? The officials of the Ministry of Education sensed the same thing when they chose to remove spelling from the evaluations. Hence, Sancho came to be called “Zancho” and Rocinante… well… who can venture to say what they turned Rocinante into.