Precision and monosemy are often noted as characteristic, or at least desirable, features of scientific language. However, it happens that, in practice, the technical vocabulary does not always enjoy these qualities, not even -I am tempted to say: even less- that of Linguistics, a discipline that in adopting its own metalanguage does not seem to count among her achievements, as perhaps one would expect of her, that of having led by example.
There is no shortage of opportunities to make reflections like this, but today I would like to dwell on just one case of polysemy that seems quite disturbing to me, and perhaps avoidable, since, as far as I am aware, it affects above all Spanish technicality, and not, or not so much, to the sister terms of other languages. I am referring to the problem posed by the words acronym and acronym. It does not cease to cause some perplexity that today bands as different from each other as Equatoguinean and Sida can carry the same label.
If I am not mistaken, the first person who, in Spanish, gave these terms the value that I propose to reexamine here was Professor Manuel Casado Velarde, in a 1979 work that he later collected in a book (1985). In doing so, he followed a proposal by Louis Guilbert in La créativité lexicale (1975). But we will examine the most recent formulation that Casado has made, in 1999 (5085):
|By acronym is meant here the morphological procedure consisting of the formation of a word from two or -very rarely- three lexical units, being represented, at least one of them, by a fragment (one or more syllables) of its signifier; the first, by the initial fragment of its signifier, and the last by the final fragment of its: docudrama (< documentary + drama), eurocracy (< European + bureaucracy).|
A situation in which we are going to find ourselves more than once is the one that derives from the complex casuistry of the facts that will come our way. Frequently, when observing the exemplification that is shown for a certain phenomenon, it is appreciated that cases cited contiguously do not represent exactly the same process. This already happens with the examples that we have just seen, because although the docudrama < documentary + drama analysis is clear, I believe that the formative mechanism of eurocracy responds rather to euro - + - cracy, which is a different thing 1. All this, apart from another factor that we must not lose sight of: the existence of loans, or, more precisely, of copies, that is, of formations induced by a foreign model. In fact, docudrama is a creation of North American English that has passed into many other languages (Spanish, Italian, French, and no doubt a few more); Eurocracy and Eurocrat will also have been traced, in Spanish, English or French.
The value of the acronym that we are examining has reached the dictionary of the Academy, which in its latest edition says, in the corresponding article, the following:
|acronym _ (From Gr. a/)kroj, extreme, and -onym). m. A type of acronym that is pronounced like a word; for example, o(object) v(olant) n(o) i(identified). || 2. Word formed by the union of elements of two or more words, constituted by the beginning of the first and the end of the last, for example, computer office, or, frequently, by other combinations, for example, so(und) n(avigation) a(nd) r(anging), Ban(co) es(pañol) (de) (crédi)to.|
Note that if the first part of that second definition is very similar to that of Married, the addition that the Academy makes on its own ("...or, frequently, by other combinations"), in addition to being imprecise, is accompanied by some examples (sónar, Banesto) that bring us considerably closer to the first meaning, that is, to secular formations; practically, we return to it.
The word acronym is in the Academy dictionary since the 1984 edition 2, that is, it has been appearing in the last three deliveries. Perhaps it is significant that the article has not ceased to be modified since then, since, in effect, none of the three coincide in everything. Let's see what those of 1984 and 1992 bring, in which the word was registered with a single meaning:
acronym _ m. Acronym made up of the initials (and sometimes other letters that follow the initial), with which a name is formed: RENFE (National Network of Spanish Railways).
acronym _ (From gr. a/)kroj, extremity, and o/)noma, name.) m. Word formed by the initials, and sometimes by more letters, of other words: RE (d) N (acional) (de) F (errocarriles) E (spanish).
Now, curiously, in the 1992 edition the second use of acronym had already sneaked in surreptitiously, the one that was not recorded at the time and would be collected in 2001. Well, in effect, the etymology that that twenty-first edition gave for bus pass was « Acronym for bond and bus ». In this case, I am more interested in pointing out that example of the metalanguage than commenting on the inaccuracy of the etymology, an inaccuracy that the Corporation itself has become aware of, since in 2001 it rectifies: «Composed of bond and bus », with which it recognizes that bus is a complete word (present in the dictionary, by the way, since 1970 3).
As is known, words formed by an initial fragment of one and a final fragment of another are called blends in English linguistic terminology, that is, «combinations, mixtures». Other labels have also been proposed, as has also happened in French, Spanish and other languages, labels to which we will return. But in English blend (and blending), very adequate, simple, exact, has been imposed on its rivals.
I believe that the polysemy of an acronym that is already reflected in the academic dictionary is disturbing. It is curious that the new meaning has prospered more in Spanish than in French (acronyme), despite the fact that this was the language in which it emerged, from the hand of Guilbert 4.
Some authors have adopted it and others have not. Among the first, for example, Ramón Almela (1999: 205-210) 5; among the latter, Félix Rodríguez González, to whom it seems "very inaccurate" (1989: 359; cf. also the negative assessment of Rainer, 1993b: 39). The same is the opinion of Rainer, who in his book, written in German, naturally speaks of Wortmischung, and of the Akronyme together with the acronyms (1993a, 87-90, 701-702, 705-709). Pharies (1987), who has also dealt with this class of words in Spanish, has no problems, because he does it in English and uses blending.
In my opinion, the acronym should be redirected to the field of secular formations, in which its foreign cognates generally remain; and, once in it, I will take the risk of making - with the opportune dose of skepticism that is imposed in such cases - a concrete proposal. This will naturally imply the search for a substitute term for what Casado calls acronyms. None of those that have been proposed has been consolidated, and there too I will prudently throw my room to the sword. But for now, for practical reasons and in the absence of a better solution, I will use the word blend even when referring to Spanish cases.
Before continuing, I would like to introduce another consideration. Reading what has been written about Spanish blends, one comes across an extremely heterogeneous and often disconcerting exemplification. Along with some words settled in our lexicon, and that speakers could recognize as more or less commonly used, there are many occasional creations, many of which, moreover, already belong to neighboring lands. They are usually flashes of verbal humor or literary ingenuity (cf. Fábregas Alfaro, 2005) -based on paronomasias, humorously reanalyzed fragments that are replaced by others, intentional lexical crossings, etc.-, creations to which, of course, I do not deny interest as speech acts, but with which we must not break our heads when it comes to systematizing facts of language. There are even entire dictionaries of these jokes. And some happy and widespread creation has found a niche in the general lexical repertoires: dedocracia, dictablanda or chupóptero, for example. But, leaving aside the occasional creations, and also the loans, and numerous proper names or non-lexicalized trade names, the conclusion is reached that the productivity of authentic blending in Spanish is very low; I am referring, I insist, to linguistic productivity, and not merely stylistic or playful.
Here are a few formations that seem to be genuinely Spanish and that have taken root:
|singer- songwriter (< singer before + author)
racquetball (< fronton + tennis)
advertorial (< advertising + reportage) «advertising report»
office automation (< office + informa tics) «office informatics»
Note that in three of these cases the second element of the combination participates fully in it, without any loss of its signifier; that circumstance alone should already lead us to not consider the acronym denomination very appropriate for them, since the Greek ¥kroj, or, what comes to the same thing, the Spanish theme or compositional element acro -, mean «extreme».
Note also that for the first two (singer- songwriter, racquetball) it is hardly necessary to explain the meaning, as this is a practically perfect hybrid of the meanings of the components. It is the same thing that happens in the most typical examples of blends in English, such as brunch (break fast + lunch), smog (smo ke + f og) or Spanglish (Span ish + Eng lish); they are also hybrids, only, in this case, twice: it would be said that the approximately equal way in which each element contributes to the mixed signifier has its correlate in a signification that is also centauric. On the other hand, in the other two examples (advertorial, office automation) the + sign is not enough to explain the meanings, since those of its components overlap in different ways; I refer, for the semantic analysis of blends, to the work of Pharies -which, however (I must insist on it), is based on a very heterogeneous exemplification-.
But, above all, note that in both advertorials and office automation a relatively well-known phenomenon can be observed within the field of word composition. I am not referring to the existence of compositional elements that have fully absorbed the significance of a compound in which they participate, transferring it entirely to new ones (in soap opera, tele - means «television»; in driving school, auto - means «automobile»; homophobia is "phobia of homosexuality"; etc.), but particularly to that of other formants that result from arbitrary shortening, and that occur both before and after the word. And so we have euro - «European», credi - «credit», petro - «oil», etc., together with - matics «informatics» (cf. telematics). Prefix stems are more common than suffix stems, but suffix stems certainly exist; and both those that imply arbitrary cutting - such as - matic, or the very old - tuplet, which allowed the generation of triplet, quadruplet, etc.- like the ones that match a classic one. Eurocracy has appeared before us, in which the element -cracy does not provide the meaning "government", but rather that of bureaucracy.
I understand, then, that the study of words like these can be redirected without many problems to the field of composition. There would be a few cases of typical blends (I insist, very rare in Spanish) such as the aforementioned singer- songwriter 6 and racquetball, or some more:
|portuñol (< portuguese + spanish)
not in ac 2001; 6 examples in CREA (Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay); 1 example in NDVUA (Spain).
dramedy (< dram a + com edia)
not in ac 2001, not in DEA; 1 example in CREA (Spain), 1 example in NDVUA (Spain).
choripán (< chorizo + bread)
Yes in Ac. 2001: «m. Arg., Cuba, El Salv., Par. and Ur. Roasted chorizo sandwich”; 8 examples in CREA (Argentina, Uruguay).
golfemia (< golf ería + boh emia)
not in ac 2001; yes in DEA; 4 examples in CREA (Spain); 1 in NDVUA 7.
Others are simply loans: dulcifluo, used on a couple of occasions by Ortega 8 and sometimes referred to as an "acronym", it comes directly from the Latin dulcifluus; bit or electrocute are anglicisms, without more 9. The fact that in Spanish this last verb is as clearly analysable as in the source language does not change things. However, the existence in English of an element that does not have an etymologically related equivalent in Spanish may force the blend 's tracing to previously require a translation. This is what has happened in a technicality of the economy, stagflation (< stagnation + inflation), on the stagflation model (< stag nation + in flation) 10.
But, finally, the most striking case of traced blend is that of the word neblumo (fog + smoke), proposed by Juan Goytisolo to translate smog (cf. Seco, 1998 sv fog), used by him on some occasion 11 and, apparently, in some use in Mexico (8 examples from that country in CREA).
Various terms have been used in Spanish to designate the formative mechanism of blends: in the translation of Lang's book we find"combination" (1992: 258); Urrutia talks about«reduction of compound lexicons» (1978: 254); Emilio Lorenzo occasionally used«welding» (1996: 205). As for the results, they have also received different names: Seco opted in 1977 (190) for words-telescope (as in English telescope word or telescoped word); the image of the "suitcase" or the "trunk" - less happy, in my opinion, than that of the "telescope" - has circulated more in other languages, since Lewis Carrol invented the portmanteau words, and thus we have, in French, mot-valise 12, mot-portemanteau, and in the same language telescopage or the very graphic mot-centaure; Migliorini proposed in Italian parola-macedonia (1963: 15); Lázaro Carreter, in Spanish, crossed words (1971: 62), and Rodríguez González (1989) crosses. But the idea of "crossing" leads us, with danger of confusion, to interference phenomena in which contamination and popular etymology would enter 13. In short, Harold Wentworth (1933) counted up to 29 different ways of calling portmanteau words in English, ways among which, by the way, acronym was not.
Given such a display, it is difficult to choose. The term "combination" may be valid, but personally I would lean towards another that I have not mentioned yet and that in my opinion is more so. I am referring to fusion, which Seco suggests as the equivalent of blend in the article dedicated to Paralympic anglicism in his Dictionary of Doubts (1998) 14. They both have the advantage of serving both the procedure and the words to which it gives rise.
* * *
Let us now go to the field of acronyms, on which, naturally, much has been written, which will force me to be very synthetic here. I leave aside the difference between abbreviation and acronym, as I consider it very clear (although it is not for everyone) 15. And I proceed to transcribe the definition given by the academic dictionary for the latter, in its first meaning:
|acronym _ (From the lat. acronym, numbers, abbreviations). F. Word formed by the set of initial letters of a complex expression; for example, O(rganization of) N(ations) U(nids), o(object) v(olant) n(o) i(identified), Í(index of) P(receive) C(onput).|
It is noteworthy that the chosen examples are different from each other; the first, UN, is a "proper name", while the other two (UFO and IPC) can be considered "common names"; on the other hand, the last one, IPC, is read differently than the other two.
Now remember the first definition that the Academy gives today for an acronym: «Type of acronym that is pronounced like a word; for example, o(object) v(olant) n(o) i(identified)». This would indicate that acronym is a hyponym of acronym, or, what is the same, that acronym is a hyperonym. According to the Academy, then, IPC would not be an acronym. When the Academy says that the acronym "is pronounced like a word" it means -to be more exact- that the result of the succession of letters that the acronym consists of is read or pronounced in a row, as if a normal word were treated; evidently, only when it is possible, (although, by the way, not always that it is: cf. SOS16, ko). Given that the succession of letters I + P + C does not allow this way of reading, it consists of the successive spelling of the initials, which, by the way, does not deprive IPC of the condition of a word, nor does it deprive its peculiar prosodic configuration.: the result tends to be monoaccental, /ipe q é/, but may retain from the spelling some more accental peak, /ípe q é/, and even all of them, one for each letter name /ípé q é/ 17.
Things get complicated if we remember that in previous editions of the academic dictionary an acronym was said to be the acronym made up of the initials «and sometimes other letters that follow the initial», and precisely one of the latter was chosen as an example, RENFE; also remember that in the second meaning of the current edition they are mentioned as examples (along with office automation, but I'll leave that out) sónar -for whose English etymon the equivalence offered by the Academy is not usually given, so(und) n(avigation) a(nd) r(anging), but rather so(und) na(vigation and) r(anging), but this is an insignificant detail, which does not change things- and Banesto.
It is clear, then, that the distinction between abbreviation and acronym is not, at all.«In general -Manuel Seco has written, and rightly so-, acronym is synonymous with acronym » (1998, sv ACRÓNIMO). However, in the specialized bibliography there are two attempts at distinction:
Now, for acronyms that take the license to use something more than mere initials, for those "imperfect" acronyms that, for the sake of legibility, make - let's put it that way - a few little "cheats", another denomination has been proposed, which seems very appropriate to me: century-old (Rosell, 1967: 34). Sigloid would thus be, again, a hyponym of acronym, usable at will: it can be safely stated that NATO and RENFE are acronyms, and it can be qualified, if desired, that the latter is a sigloid.
This being the case, I dare to make my own proposal, which I hope will be found reasonable and which I will try to reason with (but about whose success I have no illusions). Without rejecting a generic synonym between acronym and acronym, which I do not consider particularly bothersome, speaking in more technical terms, I would propose reserving the word acronym for the lexicalized acronym (read as it is read, write as it is written 19 and whatever its components, as long as they are letters). So, acronym, in its restricted and more technical sense, would apply to the names of organizations, entities, brands or the like, that is, to the so-called proper names, to non-lexical acronyms.
I recognize that the problem is transferred to another distinction that is not always easy either, the one between proper name and common name or appellative name. Proper names are words, but they are not lexicon. Today's lexicography (not the old one) excludes them from the macrostructure of the dictionary, except if they are lexicalized (that is, if they have ceased to be «proper»: quixote, adonis, maruja...); or if they enter into a phraseological unit, but, then, only to immediately give way to it (for example, America, only to support the phrase do the Americas).
The same goes for acronyms. In a general language dictionary (not in a dictionary of acronyms) only the lexicalized ones should be, which I propose to call acronyms. And so it happens.
It will be professional deformation, but the qualitative difference that exists between non-lexicalized acronyms and lexicalized acronyms seems to me much more important than the one that derives from the way they are read, and also more than the one that indicates that they have been formed with initials alone or accompanied. As a lexicologist and lexicographer I am interested in UFO, AIDS 20, FM, ATS (once spelled ateese), now DUE, PNN or penene, VAT, GEO or geo, OPA or opa, MIR, TAC, UCI, UVI, DNI, ITV, APA 21, NIF, SME or SME, group "member of the GRAPO ", NGO or NGO 22 and so many other words 23. I am much less interested, and on another level, in WHO, UN, MOPU, RENFE, PSOE, MATESA or BANESTO. Our task as scholars of the lexicon is already arduous enough to allow it to be further complicated by the more or less capricious names that may be given to certain commercial products, to companies or to that of the banking entity that I have just mentioned (and that could have been called *BANESCRE or in many other ways only dependent on the will and imagination of its founders).
Almost all the “acronyms” (“lexicalized acronyms”) that I have mentioned are in the dictionary of the Academy, in the current Spanish Dictionary or in both; and if they are not yet, they may or will appear in future editions. They are all common names, and the DEA has stretched this concept to the maximum by also including, I think rightly, words like EGB, BUP and COU. (ESO does not appear because the corpus of this work was closed in 1993.) Very sharply, said dictionary also includes USA, but only as an adjective, «American»: «the US troops »; as it collects the non-substantive meanings of ko ("he knocked him out ") 24, VIP, or vip ("vip lounges "), etc.
In the same way that when speaking of docudrama, electrocute or bit I have maintained that what is decisive in these words is their condition as loans from English, rather than the fact that in that language they are cases of fusion, I now defend that they are not mentioned even when talking about Spanish acronyms words like radar, sonar, laser, mibor or delco 25(since jeep is not often mentioned, very opaque to us as it derives from a partially spelled English acronym: g(neral) p(urpose) > GP > jeep, the result of spelling g but not p). A different case is that of the loans of English acronyms that, because they are spelled, continue to be written, both in English and in Spanish, with capital letters, or sometimes, now only in Spanish, through the transcription, in lower case, of that spelling of ours. Both spelling and spelling remind us (as opposed to cases such as radar) of their original condition as acronyms, even though the speakers do not know in many cases which is the sequence of English voices from which they come: LP or LP (< Long Play), CD or cedé (< Compact Disc), DVD (< Digital Video Disc), CPU (< Central Processing Unit), PVC (< polyvinyl chloride), SMS (< Short Message Service) 26etc _ A case of mixed reading (part spelled and part unspelled) is that of CD-ROM (< Compact Disc Read-Only Memory), also with the spelling cederrón. And there are also borrowed acronyms that allow syllabic reading: VIP or vip (< Very Important Person).
Leaving aside, then, cases such as radar or sonar, which are simple borrowings, we must agree that the examples of lexicalized Spanish sigloids (which, of course, we can also call acronyms) are very few. One of them would be node, to the extent that it is considered a common name (it is in the Academy and in DEA). Another, used exclusively in Mexico, is afore, which results from A(administradora de) Fo(ndos para el) Re(tiro). The example is very interesting, since it allows us to show that the essential difference between what we propose to call an acronym and what we have proposed to call a fusionit is that in the former letters are combined and in this word segments (segments that can coincide with the entire word). Note that the initial r of withdrawal is read in afore, as it remains in the interior position, as a simple vibrant, while the participation of the word reportage in a merger, advertorial, forces the duplication of -r- in the spelling, so that in the reading continues to be vibrant multiple, and therefore the component recognizable. It is known that in unspelled acronyms and acronyms, the phonic value of a letter may be different from that of the initial in the word of origin: CAP /káp/ is Certified (with / q/ initial) of Pedagogical Aptitude; CEDA / q éda/, Spanish Confederation (with initial /k/) of Autonomous Rights.
A peculiar and somewhat extreme case is that of the Argentine word birome "pen". The Academy dictionary informs us that it comes from the name of an individual surnamed Biró, a Hungarian-Argentine inventor, and from the initial letters of another named Meyne, a Hungarian industrialist and partner of the former. Actually, we are facing the lexicalization of a brand, of a registered trade name. The birth of birome as a common name comes at the time that such lexicalization occurs, not when the invention of the brand name took place. If this, as a century old, is somewhat "abusive", this is because, as I suggested before, trade names, company names, etc., explore formative possibilities that go beyond those of mere lexical creation, without excluding arbitrary combinations that practically place us in the field of what in English has been called «word-manufacturing » (Pharies, 1987: 282). There is no great difference between the invention, albeit motivated, of the French trade namestergalorvelcro 27 and that of the English more or less arbitrary nylon or kodak 28. As for its lexicalization and its loan to other languages, they are different and later events.
In a situation similar to that of the birome are, in fact, cetme, talgo or AVE, which are formatively perfect acronyms and are today common nouns housed, like that one, in the dictionary. A rigorous and sufficient formulation of the etymology of cetme «automatic assault rifle» would be this: «from the name of the entity called CETME »; to which it could be added, but as information of secondary importance, almost as a mere curiosity, that CETME is the acronym for Center for Technical Studies of Special Materials. In a similar way, one could proceed with talgo and AVE, names of companies that have become names of certain types of trains; that the promoters of those anticipated, wished and propitiated a rapid lexicalization does not change things. Note that AVE, as a common name, has taken the masculine gender of train, not the feminine of Alta Velocidad Española.
Manuel Seco insightfully observed that there are acronyms that become a common name and others that are born as a common name (1977: 194) 29. We can consider all of them acronyms; understand, therefore, that speaking of these as "lexicalized acronyms" does not necessarily mean that they have undergone a process that has led them to form part of the lexicon 30, but simply that they are lexicon.
Finally, I believe that a not insignificant additional advantage of this proposal lies in the fact that the second compositional element of the acronym, the one that comes from gr. o/noma «name», acquires with it full justification, much greater than the one it had in the other two essays on the distinction between acronym and acronym. As for the first element, acro -, it retains its own as «extreme» -identified with «initial letter» also in acrostic -, unlike what happens if the results of a merger or acronyms are called acronyms. blendinglexicon. Within the lexical Morphology, these can perfectly be studied within the Composition; acronyms, on the other hand, must form part of that additional chapter of various and rather marginal "other procedures" with which, after those dedicated to Derivation and Composition, treatises on word formation usually close.