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Resources for Guatemalan Spanish
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Cleveland, OH 44115

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Phone: 216-687-4797
Fax: 216-687-4650

Content Contact:
Laura Martin, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita,
Department of Modern Languages
Rhodes Tower 1649
2121 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
Phone: 216-687-4695

Diccionario de voces usadas en Guatemala,
by J. Francisco Rubio (1982)

Laura Martin, Ph.D.
Last revised May 2006

I. Background and author

J. Francisco Rubio was a distinguished Guatemalan agronomist, well known in national circles. His dictionary was published with the support of the Banco Industrial in December, 1982, just after the coup that brought General Efraín Ríos Montt to presidential power and began the worst episodes in the armed conflict, known in Guatemala as “La Violencia.” Perhaps this timing accounts for the fact that the Rubio dictionary, in spite of its admirable qualities, has apparently never been reprinted, and can now be difficult to find.

Rubio acquired extensive rural experience through his work. He was familiar with many areas of the nation, and interested in its native plants and animals. He had professional expertise in Guatemalan soils and landscape features. It is not surprising, then, that his dictionary is especially strong in those semantic fields. Although not a lexicographer or linguist by training, his work is of high scholarly quality and continued usefulness.

II. Introductory material

The Rubio dictionary is printed in a 10 @ x 7 @ format, on especially poor paper. It opens with a list of abbreviations and a Preámbulo of two pages. The opening paragraph explains the origins of the dictionary:

Citar larga serie de voces usadas en nuestro medio rural, puso de manifiesto su acento chispeante, sarcástico o intencionado, que hubimos de celebrar con admiración y carcajadas, en una plática de agrónomos, de cuya inspiración se originó este libro.

The Preamble is admirable for its conciseness. In just a few paragraphs, Rubio characterizes various aspects of Guatemalan Spanish B its regional variation; the existence of specialized vocabularies for geographic, biological, and topographic domains; its use of foreign borrowings B and his various decisions about organization and inclusion. He emphasizes his effort to be comprehensive in listing the lexicon of such specialty areas as flora, fauna, pests, illnesses, soils, agriculture, geography, and so on, in an effort to help both Guatemalans and foreigners come to know the country better. He explains that he has chosen not to include standard meanings for common Spanish words, but rather only to record those meanings and usages found in Guatemala . This decision is characteristic of all the dictionaries and means that using them requires ready access to the standard Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE).

Rubio also makes every attempt to include scientific and technical names for items in the list, going so far as to provide separate listings organized by technical names, along with other specialized lists, in a second part of the dictionary. He notes that most of the geographic names and etymologies he includes come from Arriola = s specialized dictionary.

III. Dictionary

From the introduction, one moves directly into a 246-page alphabetic listing in double columns. Each entry is given in small caps, and different meanings for a single term are separated by double vertical lines. Entries do not include grammatical information beyond an indication of noun gender when it is not obvious, and of adjectival gender variations. Rubio marks vulgar or obscene terms with a small black bullet. He spells the alveopalatal fricative, [x], as sh.

Rubio includes special uses and expressions directly in the entry with the key word, rather than as separate entries as did Sandoval and Armas. He includes relatively few examples, and those he gives are usually simple and straightforward. He is not attempting, as both Armas and Sandoval did, to use examples as a mechanism to communicate additional information about Guatemalan Spanish discourse.

As the author points out, his lexical inventory is especially detailed on terminology related to soils, biological names B he separately identifies, for example, 11 different types of beans B and illnesses, both of animals and people. Entries on these topics often contain cultural information of great interest, such as recipes for herbal remedies with the disease names, and information about the national cotton board under the entry for algodón . Because of the focus on native medicinal plants, Rubio's dictionary includes many words of indigenous origin because so much of this vocabulary – especially in rural areas – was borrowed directly from local languages, and, in many cases, there is no Spanish counterpart.

After the regular dictionary listing, which occupies about two-thirds of the bound book, comes a series of special listings of great interest. These are printed on yellow paper.

The first specialized list is of personal names and associated nicknames, included because the author found their diversity and modifications of personal interest. The Guatemalan Spanish tendency to shorten names and to use nicknames is still interesting. In a paragraph of introduction, Rubio briefly notes more than a dozen strategies for modifying names to form nicknames. The list itself is presented in three columns, and only those nicknames that completely alter the name are identified (pp. 247-262).

The names section is followed by a double-column list of medicinal plants for which Rubio could not find scientific names, or in some cases, Spanish names (pp. 263-265). These items are therefore nearly all of indigenous origin, but the list includes only the local name and the disease, ailment, or condition for which it is used as a remedy. This inventory, along with the considerable amount of similar information contained in the main dictionary, are surely a useful resource for future ethnobotanical investigations in Guatemala.

On pp. 266-273, Rubio lists animals organized by scientific or technical name, and on pp. 274-295, he provides a similar list of plants. He concludes this special section with a list of animal and plant diseases or pests, organized by scientific or technical name. For each one he indicates what plant or animal it attacks and whether it is found in humans (pp. 295-302).

After these interesting sections, unprecedented in previous or subsequent dictionaries, there is an equally unusual second dictionary focused particularly on the nation of Guatemala . Among its entries are found such information as the names for

  • towns, rivers, geographic features, and archaeological sites;
  • various national administrative divisions;
  • ethnic groups and languages;
  • national awards and honors; and,
  • governmental divisions and positions.

There is an astonishing amount of information distributed among other entries. The entry for Guatemala itself contains various tables of demographic information, agricultural and economic indices, a nine-column history organized by date from August 1523 to June 1982; and a great deal of technical geographic information, e.g., watercourses and watersheds (pp. 324-340). The entry for Gobernantes de la República de Guatemala begins in 1847 and ends with Ríos Montt (pp. 322-323).

Rubio closes his volume with a 64-item bibliography (pp. 389-392). He cites Armas and Batres, but, interestingly, not Sandoval, which was already long out of print and of limited availability by the early 1980s. The unusual contents in the Rubio dictionary are most interesting and useful. It is unique among the books being considered – part dictionary and part encyclopedia. It is a pity that it is not cited and used more.

To see a scanned page from Rubio, click here.

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This page last modified Monday, August 07, 2006
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