Additions to the dictionary: Why ‘big data’ and not big data?


The Royal Spanish Academy has just added to the Dictionary, among other terms, the English expression big data , despite the fact that it has a simple and obvious translation into Spanish. What reasons are behind this decision and others like it?

As has been happening in recent years every December, the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), in collaboration with the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language (ASALE), has published a new list of words and meanings that are included, from now on , in the Common or Official Dictionary of the Spanish Language (DLE).

In general, these are words – simple or complex forms – used for some time by speakers, and that are sufficiently documented in the databases (such as the Corpus of 21st Century Spanish ) with which the Institute works. of Lexicography of the RAE.

Among the recently incorporated foreign words, most of them Anglicisms, the English phrase big data (literally “big data”) has drawn special attention, because, for some time now, various linguistic instances have been proposing its Spanish equivalent, big data. What does this, apparently, incongruous academic decision, as well as many other equivalent ones, respond to?

A documented use

The basic criterion of the RAE and ASALE to include a word in the DLE is that its use, by speakers, is sufficiently documented. If a dictionary is to be an instrument capable of resolving speakers’ linguistic doubts, it has no choice but to record the voices they use. And, from there, they will be able to advise, with reasoned and agreed criteria, whether a certain word is the most suitable to satisfy this or that expressive need.

For these purposes, since the 2001 edition, the RAE has been adopting the criterion of presenting in italics the so-called crude foreign words, such as big data , aquaplaning , banner , cookie , parkour or sexting , to name some of the recently included ones. They have in common the fact that they are loans not adapted to the graphic-phonological patterns of Spanish, while the loans already adapted (or not in need of adaptation) are recorded in round: alien, slogan, píxel, vedete…

In some of the crude foreign words, the Dictionary also records, written in round, the adapted form or the recommended Spanish if they are sufficiently documented. This is precisely what it does, among others, in the case of big data , from whose entry, in italics, it refers to the slogans “big data” and “data intelligence”, written in round, forms to which it gives priority and whose use , consequently, recommends.

And it is under these advised mottos where the information relating to the corresponding meaning is detailed; respectively, “set of data that, due to its large volume, requires special processing techniques” and “branch of computing that is responsible for big data.”

Recommendations and alternatives

Something similar happens for the English acronym VAR ( video assistant referee , “video assistant referee”, which, on the other hand, is recorded in round so as not to contravene the graphic-phonic pattern of Spanish): the resource of referring to the motto is used. “video refereeing”, under which it is defined as “video system used to assist the referee, which allows re-watching a play that has just occurred.”

Other foreign voices or phrases (mostly English), written in italics, for which the Academic Dictionary refers to Spanish forms are, for example, best seller (bestseller), cartoon (cartoons), coach (in sport, coach), container (container), feedback , free lance , full time , grill , hardware , hobby , impasse waiting time), jean (jeans), jeep (off-road vehicle), jet (jet), living room (living room), marketing (marketing), sponsor (sponsor), etc.

But it must be said that the academic criteria, for these purposes, as well as for the graphic adaptation of crude foreign words to the usual pronunciation in Spanish, is far from being coherent.

False anglicisms

A different issue is the case of the inclusion of balconing , in italics, a specific word from Spain, to refer to the “practice of jumping into a hotel pool from the balcony or terrace of a room.”

This is one more case of what we could call “false anglicisms”, in line with other forms, already registered, also in italics, in the DLE, such as jogging (in English “position”, but not jogging , also included in italics), camping (camping), leasing (lease with purchase option), parking (parking), bungee jumping (risky sport that consists of jumping into the void from a bridge or other high place, holding on with an elastic rope).

And, now that we have included these hybrid forms, why not open the doors of the DLE to canyoning (as an alternative to rafting , already included in previous editions), rafting , penduling , cuerding , dancing , goming , pressing , vending , these last four already included in the Dictionary of Current Spanish .

Finally, the recent update of the DLE also includes lexical units that are, for the most part, structural copies of foreign forms (simple or complex), such as non-binary , ecological corridor , crime against humanity or against the country , gender dysphoria , row zero , footprint (carbon, ecological, genetic, water, satellite), gender identity , sexual identity , red line , menu of the day , energy poverty , tax shelter , gender role , etc. In these cases, what is received as a loan is the meaning and the syntactic scheme, while the signifier is created by the receiving language, Spanish in this case.

The addition of meanings, some geographically restricted, is another of the increases that DLE updates usually bring with them. Thus, for example, the meaning, typical of Argentina and Uruguay, of “summer footwear that fastens to the foot with one or two straps on the instep or between the toes” is added to the word ojota (“type of flip-flop”). ”.

Author Bio: Manuel Casado Velarde is Emeritus Professor of Spanish Language, specialized in discourse analysis, lexical innovation, Lexicology and Semantics of Spanish at the University of Navarra