An open letter to the media: spell Spanish right.

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To all journalists, graphic designers, and media related people:

Hello! Nice to meet you. We’re all of those people who, to a certain degree (at least), have some understanding of the Spanish language.

We’d like to talk to you today about a certain problem you guys seem to have with getting certain Spanish names right. It involves the Spanish letter ‘Ñ’: it seems you guys have a tendency to replace it with the letter ‘N’. Which is an entirely understandable mistake! Spanish spelling is complex, and people frequently, many times knowingly, omit the ¡, ¿ and all the accented á’s and é’s and so on so forth from their casual Spanish spelling. It is normal and natural and nobody outside your Spanish teacher will hold it against you (except, of course, if you need to write Spanish in a professional manner. Then you should use all of those).

Here’s the thing. Nobody, not even the most ignorant campesino or pandillero out there, ever, will replace ñ with n. That wouldn’t be a spelling mistake, it would be be a ‘wat?’ mistake. Because the Spanish alphabet looks like this:

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Ññ Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

Did you pay attention to which letter comes after ‘N’ in the Spanish alphabet? Let us give you a hint: it’s not ‘O’, it’s ‘Ñ’. And that’s because the letter ‘Ñ’ is not some accented letter like ‘é’: it’s a letter of its own. With a completely different sound to ‘N’. And, to boot, it has it’s own name: ‘Eñe’ (English pronunciation: énye).

It’s pronounced a bit like a ‘ny’ (niiih) sound… which means that when you read ‘Jalapeño’, it’s not pronounced as ‘Jalape-no’, it’s pronounced as ‘Halapenyo’. A bit like the にょ sound in Japanese, if you’re familiar with that. (By the way, ‘Ch’ and ‘Ll’ were also letters until 2007! A fun fact.)

And here is where our problem lies: you guys just replace the ‘Ñ’ with ‘N’. These are two different letters entirely, it’s like someone from Spain writing ‘Microsoft Windows’ as ‘Vindous’ because it looks or sounds close enough. Every time you swallow your ‘ényes’, someone who can speak Spanish (and it’s not just the natives, think of the foreign language students too!) is out there cringing when he reads ‘Jalapeno’, wonders what that is for a split second, and then realises that it is, of course, ‘Jalapeño’. Anyone who’s read enough Spanish literature will automatically start decoding the Ñ as a separate letter, so it’s confusing to see it replaced.

We wouldn’t mind if it was the small mom-and pop outlets doing this, but we’re talking about the big, supposedly multiculturally aware BBC doing it too (for the record, the real name is Enrique Peña Nieto). Add all the ‘Jalapeno’ labels in food and the bloke at Subway not understanding you when you pronounce the name correctly, and you may start to understand our frustration here. We’re not asking everyone, who probably don’t know how to type the silly thing, to start writing their ényes properly: we’re asking the big, multinational, enormous companies, who should at the very least know someone who knows someone who knows something about Spanish spelling, to start writing their Spanish names correctly. It’ll make a lot of people happier. Isn’t half of the United States full of Hispanics anyways? We shouldn’t even be making this complaint.

A quick browse through the Wikipedia article for Jalapeño (spelled right, for once!), aside from revealing that a bunch of basement-dwellers are more knowledgable than the BBC, reveals that Merriam-Webster lists ‘Jalapeño’ as the correct spelling, with ‘Jalapeno’ as a correct variant. The far more reputable Oxford only lists ‘Jalapeño’ as the only spelling for this green and tasty pepper. My very own Mac OS X operating system underlines ‘Jalapeno’ in red and proposes the correct, proper spelling, ‘Jalapeño’.

So there you go! Preserve the English, and Spanish languages, and make us happier to boot!

Regards,

– Confused people who, to a certain degree (at least), have some understanding of the Spanish language. 


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