Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How many whats? do I have??

The ñ is one of the things that make Spanish unique from any other language. Other languages have the same sound -- we have the "ny" in "canyon" (which comes from the Spanish cañón, by the way); Italian has the "gn" as in "gnocchi," etc. But no other language has the ñ as a separate letter, something that needs its own key on the keyboard and has its own place in the alphabet and the dictionary. And it is a totally separate letter; it's not just an "'n' with a squiggly thing on top," as my students sometimes call it; it is the ñ.

The ñ is one of the things that complicates computer usage for Spanish speakers. Even though those of us with English keyboards can press some combination of keys to get an ñ, many times it comes out on the other end as a strange combination of letters, symbols and numbers, often resulting in something like the word piñata looking like this: pi//AAA2[?//ata.

The problem gets worse in web addresses, since web addresses definitely do not recognize the ñ. Spanish language websites that wish to use the word español are reduced to calling it espanol. I'm sure the Real Academia Española is cringing over that one.

Some resourceful users type in two n's together to respresent the ñ, while others resort to spelling words with the Anglicized "ny".

Nowhere is this more important than the word año which, without its ñ, becomes a word that only a proctologist should use. When I taught high school, I once took the opportunity to explain to my students that if they subsitute an ñ with a regular "n" in the word año, for example when they are asking for someone's age, they are literally asking them, "How many [parts of the body that you use to go to the bathroom...] do you have?" I'm pretty sure that one analogy was enough to get them to remember the difference – hopefully enough to make them include the "squiggly thing" the next time they write the word.

It's understandable with students who are just learning the language, but how about Amazon.com? I just looked up Obie Bermúdez's new album, and it is listed as: "Todo el Ano." Yikes! Not what I really want in my CD player! Sorry, Amazon, I just can't bring myself to order that. I'll go buy it in my local Borders.

4 comments:

Liz said...

i love the letter alt164 , i'll write other day because the blogger is not letting me type such of thing. it came to my mind some of my favorite words with the letter alt164, like alt164ame, coalt164o, maraalt164a...

Ruth Kunstadter said...

Liz, I love your comment, because you just proved the point that not only is the ñ unique, a letter with its own personality and charisma, but it also is impossible to write on some computer keyboards!!

Nayeli said...

Aaaahhh...yes. I just found out Google does not distinguish between an ñ and an n, or words with accents or without, which really set my mind at ease because I used to do multiple searches not knowing how the searching was being done of accented and ñ words.
When we don't have access to email that can put in accents or ñs, my family and everyone else I know that speaks Spanish uses "gn" as a replacement. We just leave out accents and the beginning upside down interrogation and exclamation marks. I really used to bitch about accents when I was growing up, but now I really appreciate the difference they make when, say, you are reading out loud something you've never read before. It makes you get it right before reading the whole sentence for context.
Will you have entries on the "ll" and "ch" letters? We were always taught they were actual letters. I don't know what the Academia says about it, but they have their own sections in my dictionaries.

Nayeli said...

Weird...when I first loaded this page it showed the ñs properly, and now I'm getting some weird A plus or minus thing. I remember I had to mess with my settings and paste in some extra code to get these things to show up properly in my blog, but for the life of me I don't understand what goes on "behind the screen."