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SPAIN: Linguistic Atlas

When I was living in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid in the 1930s, Navarro Tomás was preparing a linguistic atlas of Spain . Aurelio Espinosa Jr., now professor emeritus at Stanford, was among his helpers. David Heap writes: "You generously overstate my degree of involvement when you say that I am in charge of the Linguistic Atlas of the Iberian Peninsula. That honour was due (some decades before my birth) to Tomas Navarro Tomas and a group of scholars associated with him, many of whom were also around the Residencia de Estudiantes. My role is simply that of publishing (hopefully!) these long-forgotten materials on the Internet (those interested can see a prototype of the site-to-be at Whether the data cover words for "pardo" or "marrón" is a good question, I will check"

RH:Tomás Navarro Tomás, born in 1884 in the mountain village of Arenas de San Pedro, was a dour, humorless man. Many of the intellectuals of the 1931 republic took themselves too seriously because their colleagues took them too seriously, thus exposing themselves to ridicule . His field was the pronunciation of Spanish He wrote the standard manual on the subject and taught it to foreign students attending the summer session at the Residencia. Once a Spanish student attended his class to see what it was like. Navarro Tomŕs turned to him and said slowly, since foreigners often did not understand Spanish (I translate): "". The student answered with a straight face: "" The student rejoiced later telling how he had made a fool of Navarro Tomás.

Since my Oxford days I have been interested in the problem of the many words in Spanish which occur in both genders with different meanings. Dámaso Alonso foresaw that I would write a book on the subject. I wanted to discuss the project with Navarro Tomás, but he dismissed the possibility that I was capable of writing it. He was really quite rude. Well, the dictionary exists in a limited edition published by the Hispanic Society of America. It is imperfect and incomplete, so I plan to put it on line so that colleagues may suggest corrections. Stay tuned.

Navarro Tomŕs devoted his major effort to his linguistic atlas, describing local differences in language. The whole field of dialectology has lost significance (I was once expert in the four dialects of Catalan!). David Heap is saving the atlas, which had almost been forgotten, by computerizing it. Spanish dialects are disappearing, so the project will save it from oblivion. Thanks to David, the name of Navarro Tomás may be remembered.

Ronald Hilton - 10/19/02