Ola ke ase: How Spanish orthography is changing
Published on February 4, 2020 / Updated on December 18, 2023
Is the passage of time changing how Spanish is spoken? If so, should new “incorrect” grammar and spelling be accepted by the mainstream? We’ve talked about time in Spanish on the Lingoda blog before. We’ve never addressed what time does to the Spanish language. New developments are taking hold and some people want a simplified writing style. Let’s take a look at the movement and ask ourselves: “Ola ke ase?”
Orthography is a set of conventions for writing language. It includes spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, stress emphasis and punctuation. Essentially, orthography is the full set of norms for how and why we spell and speak in Spanish the way that we do. With the simplification of language through its use in new media, orthography might face some drastic changes as in the famous meme captioned “ola ke ase“. The question to address is then: Should the Spanish language preserve its history and etymology visible in the way it is written or should it adapt to the new demands of users?
Spanish is the second biggest language used on Facebook and Twitter. It’s seventh on Wikipedia. The Real Academia is a conservative power tasked with preserving the Spanish language. This body principally deals with Spanish as it is spoken and written in Spain, but also governs official Spanish textbooks in its former colonies primarily in Latin America.
Spanish orthography is famous for maintaining a close bond between the written and spoken language. Most of the time there is a 1:1 correlation between sounds and letters. Unlike in English or French, there is no pronunciation variation. Spanish doesn’t have situations like the word “live” or “read” (EN) or “fils” and “fier” (FR) which can be pronounced in various ways. However, there are certain exceptions to this regularity when writing that make spelling difficult. Should you write g or gu or j? V or b? Y or ll? Because Spanish orthography is so regular, these little exceptions feel painful to Spanish students.
The internet is accelerating the conversation because online writing tends towards simplification. For ease and speed, Spanish-language texting and tweeting is often unorthodox. Online, Spanish orthography rules go out the window and native speakers accept it and adapt accordingly. Porque becomes “xk“. Though nobody is proposing drastic changes like xk, it is fair to admit that some level of language evolution is natural. Spanish evolved from Latin after all. Due to distance and time, some Spanish vocabulary words differ from country to country. Worldwide simplifications in Spanish spelling have already happened throughout history too. Spanish went from theoría to teoría, from necessario to necesario, etc. Useless letters have been dropped. This is how language naturally evolves. But how far are we willing to go?
We mentioned at the start a viral meme from 2013 where a photo of a llama asks, “Ola ke ase”. That is simplified orthography for the question “¿Hola qué haces?” It became famous for sparking conversations about orthography. Newer orthography memes include “alo polisía“ and the Twitter profile jezucrihto/yisucrist. Some think of them as ridiculous ways to spell. A lazy invention of the Internet age.
The Real Academia is against simplified orthography. They warned against changes and labeled this kind of new spelling un riesgo, a risk. Others argue that Spanish is deserving of deconstruction and decolonization. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez said in the first International Congress of the Spanish Language: “Let’s put orthography in retirement! It’s the terror of the human being since the cradle.” Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez promoted writing how people speak. He even used newly invented spellings in poetry: colejio, jente and espresar. Both are Nobel Prize Winners for Literature. This TED talk by literary scholar Karina Galperin discusses the concept further: Do we need a new orthography? She condones change by proclaiming, “Ase falta una nueba ortografía.”
Whether you feel more conservative towards the language or welcoming towards any changes headed towards the Spanish orthography, one thing is sure: changes will be inevitable. This won’t mean, though, that the Spanish language will lose its beauty, its range of expressions and appeal. It will, on the contrary, present us with an opportunity to be creative with our vocabulary and spelling. Embrace it fully!