The use of language issues for political purposes is a global problem. In
a memo on France, we discussed the use by politicians of women's demand for
gender-recognition in titles. In Spain the fight is over orthographic
marks: the til over the n, the acute accent, and the inverted question and
exclamation marks at the beginning of a sentence.
Ignacio Palacios-Huerta has called attention to an article on the subject
in "El Pais" of March 12, 1998. The row peaked when the Ministry of Health
bought 17,152 computer terminals without the marks; those with them are
more expensive. It began in 1991 when the European Union demanded that
Spain not block the import of terminals without the til over the n.
Well-known literary figures seized on this issue. Fernando Lazaro Carreter
said better leave the European Union than give up the til. The novelist
Mario Vargas Llosa (a failed Peruvian politician) wanted to take to the
streets, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was equally vehement. The Spanish Academy
became involved. The left attacked capitalists who want to save money. An
appendix to the article traced the origin of these peculiarities of Spanish
orthography. Let's not be smug: sensible proposals to reform the absurd
English orthography have been shouted down.