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Bill Gates Protecting the Spanish Language?

Heather Leighton
(Terminology Update, Volume 33, Number 3, 2000, page 10)

North America is centre stage to both the high-tech and telecommunications booms. It should come as no surprise then that between 75 and 80 percent of all web pages are English. While many people speak English as a second or third language, most people would probably prefer to use new technology in their own native tongue. With this in mind, high-tech entrepreneurs look towards new frontiers: new markets where there is a huge high-tech demand and a common language, i.e. one language shared by the same community of users.

Latin America, where 370 million people speak Spanish, would appear to be an obvious target for the high-tech world. In addition, there are another 30 million Spanish-speaking people in the US, and 45 million in Spain. It would seem that the only barrier preventing high-tech companies from moving into that market is language.

Therefore, any long-range thinker would try to propose a linguistic solution where all major Latin American markets could be reached through the use of a uniform terminology that satisfies all regional language differences. It would also provide a means for distributing new terminology throughout the Spanish-speaking world whenever new technology became available. This solution would be feasible only in a "perfect world" scenario.

Well, think again . . . and welcome to the world of Bill Gates and Microsoft. On October 15, 1999, Bill Gates and Víctor García de la Concha, Director of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (R.A.E.), signed a Declaration of Intent to promote and ensure the use of correct Spanish terminology in new computer programs. The Declaration of Intent was endorsed by 21 other Spanish-language academies from Latin America, North America and the Philippines. The Declaration establishes consultation ties between the R.A.E. and Microsoft’s terminology and style departments. Its central objective is to solve linguistic, grammatical and lexical questions as they arise. According to a press release from Microsoft (Spain), the two organizations have so far agreed on the following questions:

  1. The next edition of the R.A.E. dictionary (2001 release) will be included in Microsoft products.
  2. Microsoft will be able to access the R.A.E. lexical database in order to study natural language.
  3. Other R.A.E. materials will be incorporated into Microsoft products.
  4. The R.A.E. will take part in the analysis of the grammar checker, a "beta tester" program, as well as other Spanish-language features in Microsoft products.

Bill Gates capitalized on the general feeling of uneasiness in the Spanish-speaking world, created by the increasing number of "Spanglish" terms in a rapidly evolving high-tech jargon. Obviously, Mr. Gates realized the importance of serving a new language market with high-quality linguistic support as well as the importance of using uniform terminology to help sell his products. By establishing a partnership with the R.A.E., a prestigious and respected institution with ties throughout the Spanish-speaking world, Microsoft has a head start on its competitors in gaining control of a well-sought-after market.

While collaboration has only just begun, the Declaration is a clear indication of the R.A.E.’s proactive approach. Usually a conservative institution, the R.A.E. has realized the significance of the Information Age and its deteriorating impact on the Spanish language. According to the Instituto Cervantes, the Declaration between the R.A.E. and Microsoft is not just a measure to protect the Spanish language from anglicisms, but it is also a way of strengthening communication between Spanish-speaking countries. By collaborating with the high-tech giant Microsoft, the R.A.E. is not only overseeing a newly evolving jargon in the Spanish language, it has also found a potentially huge market for its products.

Another clear winner is the high-tech translator who can access new terminology as it becomes available from the R.A.E. website (www.rae.es/ (www) (es)). Even though the days of terminological improvisation are far from over, the fact that there is more linguistic support in the lonely high-tech translation world is certainly reassuring.

Finally, end users will be able to lay to rest any worries they may have about the quality and validity of new terminology found in Microsoft products; after all, the terminology will have been approved by the R.A.E.