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Resources for Guatemalan Spanish
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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

Semántica guatemalense, o Diccionario de guatemaltequismos,
by Lisandro Sandoval (1941-42), in 2 volumes.

Laura Martin, Ph.D.
Last revised May 2006

I. Background and author

Still the most interesting and complete of all Guatemalan Spanish dictionaries, Sandoval is a dense treasure trove of information about the language and society of upper class of the Guatemalan capital city at the end of the 19th century. An engineer by profession, Lisandro Sandoval Chinchilla also taught at various levels. He held office in various governmental ministries, including Public Works and Education, and served as a congressional deputy. He was a member of the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala, and a correspondiente of the Real Academia Española (RAE).

His interest in language was deep and life-long. The dictionary was not his only language-related publication. He also authored a massive three-volume study of Spanish etymologies, the Diccionario de Raíces Griegas y Latinas y de Otros Orígenes del Idioma Español. This dense and erudite work is long out of print and now very rare.

Lisandro Sandoval's interest in language, his affection for Guatemalan Spanish, and his activism on behalf of correct language usage was transmitted to his family as well. His son, Mario Sandoval Figueroa, was a poet and distinguished journalist. He served as editor and later general manager of the Guatemalan national newspaper Prensa Libre until his retirement in 1980. He continued his father's interest in language usage, and was a member of the Guatemalan Academy of the Language. Don Mario's son, Lisandro's grandson, Mario Antonio Sandoval Samayoa, carries on these family traditions. He is a well known journalist and current president of the Academia Guatemalteca de la Lengua. It is with his and his family's kind permission that we can make his grandfather's dictionary available at this site.

II. Introductory material

Like Batres before him, Sandoval opens his dictionary with a lengthy prologue (pp. xi- lii ) that serves as introduction and justification. This essay, however, grinds a few more axes than Batres. In particular, Sandoval criticizes the overall Guatemalan lack of interest in language correctness and laments the fact that nearly a half century has passed since Batres, and no new Guatemalan dictionary has appeared. It is this lack that he sets out to correct.

He further criticizes the Guatemalan Language Academy , only recently formed (or reinvigorated) in 1887. He decries its lack of focus on what he considers should be its main missions: correcting grammar, resolving questions and doubts about usage, and publishing model writers. He compares the Guatemalan Academy unfavorably to the Colombian Academia in terms of its activism. The Guatemalan Academia de la Lengua is active today, but does not currently have an individual web presence; minimal information can be found at http://www.ciberamerica.org/Ciberamerica/Castellano/Areas/cultura/literatura/academias_lengua.htm, last access April 2006 .

Finally, Sandoval criticizes the national press for its failure to address issues of correct usage and its tendency toward polemic whenever such issues become a topic of journalistic interest. As an example of this tendency, he reproduces a series of newspaper articles and letters regarding the controversy over the authorship of Semilla de Mostaza , published in 1938 by Elisa Hall (de Asturias?). The work was written in the style of the 17th-century Spanish Golden Age (pp. xviii-xxv ). Sandoval was a strong supporter of Hall's authorship, but others felt that she was not capable of sustaining the archaic style, or that the style was not in fact accurate. The items he quotes display an entertaining game of grammatical “gotcha” as Hall and her critics trade published insults about each other's prose in such terms as “barbarismo intolerable,” “expresiones de tan feo gusto,” “galimatía,” and “gazapo.” (As a side note, it is worth pointing out that neither Sandoval nor any of the other dictionary compilers includes either of these last two words. Only gazapo appears in the 22 nd Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE) – as a colloquialism referring to inadvertent speech or writing errors.) Interestingly, a well-known Guatemalan literary critic, Arturo Arias, declares definitively that the novel Semilla de Mostaza was actually written by Miguel Angel Asturias ( http://www.literaturaguatemalteca.org/arias25.htm , last access April 2006).

Sandoval continues by reproducing an article titled “Pruebas del Hombre Educado,” which quotes six signs of an educated man originally presented by Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University from 1902-45 ( http://www.bartleby.com/65/bu/ButlrN.html , last access April 2006 ). The first of these signs is “Correctness and precision in the use of the mother tongue.” ( Butler 's list is widely cited, e.g., http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/exhibits/inaugurations/nichols.html , last access April 2006.)

The second subsection of the Prólogo (pp. xxix-xlvi ) defines the major sources of Guatemalan regional vocabulary ( guatemaltequismos ): words from “our Indians” and Nahuatl; archaisms (old words now lost from Peninsular Spanish); foreign loans; and neologisms. He expands on these concepts by discussing the controversies over the role of Americanisms in the DRAE and the existence of polysemy to account for the different meanings found in Guatemala for words in the DRAE. Some of this discussion owes much to Batres Jáuregui's Castellano en América.

Sandoval also justifies here his decisions to include “indecent” and “obscene” words, including quotes from other dictionaries in his reasoning. And he explains why he elected not to separate vicios from refranes from flora/fauna and so on, as some friends had urged. His explanation largely amounts to the fact that it was simply easier just to use an alphabetic list. Some users, like some of the friends he says questioned his decision, may regret this choice.

Sandoval closes the main essay with a lengthy and humorous anecdote from his school days. Now follows a list of example entries from the dictionary to show how he incorporates comparative or synonymous terms from other nations and a 34-item list of principal topic areas of special focus in the dictionary. These are intended to serve as corrective tools, and are mostly types of patterned phonological substitutions, e.g., iar for ear . He ends with the hope that teachers and students will find the compendium helpful for improving their usage and appreciation of the language.

There is a bibliography of works consulted (pp. lii -lv ), mostly Spanish grammars and dictionaries, and including regional dictionaries for Bogotá, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, El Salvador, Cuba, Argentina, Honduras, and Nicaragua. There are dictionaries of the indigenous languages Nahuatl, Quiche' (now spelled K'iche'), and Guaraní. The opening material concludes with four pages of abbreviations and conventions used in the entries.

III . Dictionary

The overall organization of Semántica guatemalense is straightforward. The word list appears in double columns on each page. Each entry word is in small caps, adjectives and adverbs are specifically identified, and noun gender is given. It was published in two volumes. Volume I contains the prologue and items for A through K (pp. I:3-751), and was published in 1941; Volume II, published in 1942, contains L through Z (pp. II:3-636), an Appendix of omitted and corrected items (pp. 637-692); an errata page; and a contents list. This dictionary is, to be sure, a bulky document.

Sandoval defends the inclusion of words pronounced with the alveopalatal fricative, [x], a sound lost from peninsular Spanish by the mid-sixteenth century but still heard today in Guatemalan Spanish. He spells it as it was historically written, with X. At the separate alphabetic entry for X (II:608), he provides a page of explanation about the history of the sound in Spanish and its ubiquity in local indigenous languages. Throughout the dictionary, he marks with an asterisk each one of his nearly two hundred examples of words with [x], as a way to remind readers that the pronunciation should be like sh in English and not like ks as in other Spanish words.

Originally, the Sandoval dictionary began as his personal effort to record items missing from Batres. He uses Batres as a model and resource, but considers that his work will fill the gaps in the earlier listing of both “provincialismos” and “guatemaltequismos.” Where Batres included (by Sandoval's count) 1812 entries, his dictionary contains some 37,745! This enormous total is achieved largely through the redundant individual listing of every conceivable faulty pronunciation variant or popular saying. Sandoval's focus on correctness and standardization is perfectly consistent with that of Batres. He uses the same vocabulary to classify forms and pronunciations that he considers uncouth or low: vicios, barbarismos, vulgarismo, corrupción, corruptela, etc. For example, he gives 71 entries under intre/intre- for various barbarous and vulgar variants of entre/entre-, as in entregar, entrelazar, entrevistar, etc. (pp. I:701-703).

The purely alphabetic listing presents some difficulties for the user or researcher, primarily because of the lack of differentiation between entries for individual words and pronunciation corrections or between phrasal expressions and popular sayings or proverbs. The lists of popular expressions, which often include many synonyms, can be quite long. For example, expressions with DAR /DARLE/DARSE ‘to give' appear as individual entries from Dar atol con un dedo through Dar vueltas, occupying the double columns of nearly ten pages (pp. I:286-295).

Proverbs and traditional sayings are intermingled with everything else, alphabetized according to the first main noun or verb. Some cross-reference other versions, including ones with faulty pronunciations, but the entry that has the actual meaning of the saying is not always clearly identified. For example, the expression Ir uno a arrear pijijes on p. I:713 sends the reader to pijijes and gives other versions of the saying as equivalents. Many of these are also given with the entry slightly below it, Ir uno a freír niguas, but neither variant directly provides a meaning. The faulty pronunciation arriar cross-references arrear ‘to steal' (p. 77), but the full meaning of the phrase – despedir a uno con aspereza ‘dismiss someone discourteously' – is given only with the perhaps more frequent variant Echar a uno a freír niguas (I:431). There we find a lengthy list of alternate expressions and several equivalents in other countries. Still, chasing down the variants presents a good opportunity to experience serendipitous discoveries, since any individual entry may include poems, anecdotal experiences, quotes from scholars or writers, and speculations about etymologies.

Sandoval, perhaps because of his wide professional experience and travel, had a particular interest in the relationship between Guatemalan Spanish forms and those found in other Spanish varieties. So, in general, he makes an effort to include in his entries, especially for slang or popular expressions, the corresponding forms in the other varieties of Spanish for which he has resources. He gives particular attention to other Central American varieties. The inaccessibility today of many of his resources for these varieties therefore makes his dictionary a useful tool for students of Honduran, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, and Costa Rican Spanish as well.

Compared to Batres, Sandoval offers more words of indigenous origin, many more botanical and zoological specialty names, and many, many more proverbs, sayings, and common expressions. His entries do not rely as much as those of Batres on quotes or citations, but rather feature creative and idiosyncratic example sentences. His examples alone are a rich source of information about the sociolinguistic and cultural contexts of his day, throwing light on class relations and social practices. The personal names used in the examples are themselves a window into the now-quaint formality of yesteryear. In fact, his inclusion of many personal names as entries, mostly as examples of non-standard pronunciations, as well as of nicknames derived from them, constitute material for an interesting study in social change.

Sandoval's inclusion of refranes, dichos and modismos also constitutes an invaluable inventory. Many of these traditional expressions may now be lost or are falling into disuse, but so little work has been done on the topic in Guatemala that their status is not entirely clear. Like his lengthy lists of non-standard pronunciations, these conventional expressions constitute data for sociolinguistic and generational studies of language change in the Guatemalan context.

Sandoval deals with a few grammatical issues as well as lexical ones. He comments on the voseo , the use of possessives with indefinite articles, use of diminutives, and some other grammatical features that characterize Guatemalan Spanish , and he generally does so in a more tolerant tone than Batres.

Sandoval's work is organized much more like a conventional dictionary than is the Batres one, but is still an artisanal product rather than a linguistically technical one. In spite of its organizational peculiarities and its non-technical approach, Semantica guatemalense is an extremely valuable scholarly resource. A comparison of its lexical inventory with those of the later dictionaries reveals the extent to which the processes of leveling that are removing regional vocabulary from all varieties of Spanish are affecting Guatemalan Spanish . A study comparing the set of lexical items containing [x] across all the dictionaries is available at this site: The Status of [x] in Guatemalan Spanish: A Review of the Dictionaries .

The Sandoval dictionary still stands as a largely untapped resource for the serious study of Guatemalan Spanish. It is long out of print and now very rare. Because of its inaccessibility, it is less frequently cited than the more recent dictionaries, especially Armas. Thanks to the support of Lisandro Sandoval's proud descendants, a complete scanned .pdf version of Semántica guatemalense, o diccionario de guatemaltequismos is now available to students and scholars at this site.


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This page last modified Monday, August 07, 2006
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