Foundation of the Spanish Academy Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Spanish Academy was founded to regulate the use and development of the Spanish language throughout the Spanish Empire. When Spain lost that empire, the academy continued to function, in concert with the academies of the Spanish language that were established in all former Spanish colonies. These academies, taking their lead from the Spanish Academy, have served to keep the Spanish language unified into the early twenty-first century.

Summary of Event

In 1700, Philip, duke of Anjou and grandson of King Louis XIV of France, became king of Spain. His ascension to the Spanish throne as Philip V marked the beginning of the rule of the French royal house of Bourbon in Spain. As a result of Bourbon rule, the cultivation of the Spanish language Languages;Spanish suffered, because the French language came to dominate the Spanish court and began to be spoken widely by the learned classes. Patriotic Spanish aristocrats who supported Philip V in his struggle to secure the Spanish throne in the War of the Spanish Succession believed, despite this support, that there was an urgent need to resist this trend and to promote the proper use of the Spanish language. To this end, Juan Manuel Fernández Pacheco, the Marqués de Villena and chief steward of the king, along with other learned aristocrats, proposed establishing an academy of language. The academy was established on August 3, 1713, and a royal decree issued on October 3, 1714, officially constituted it as the Royal Academy of Language. Royal Academy of Language, Spain [kw]Foundation of the Spanish Academy (Aug. 3, 1713) [kw]Academy, Foundation of the Spanish (Aug. 3, 1713) [kw]Spanish Academy, Foundation of the (Aug. 3, 1713) Spanish Academy, Madrid [g]Spain;Aug. 3, 1713: Foundation of the Spanish Academy[0410] [c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 3, 1713: Foundation of the Spanish Academy[0410] [c]Education;Aug. 3, 1713: Foundation of the Spanish Academy[0410] Pacheco, Juan Manuel Fernández Philip V Bello, Andrés

Modeled on the Académie Française (French Academy), established in 1635, the Spanish Academy proposed to purify, standardize, and give splendor to the Spanish language. The academicians not only wanted to protect the Spanish language from the dominance of French but also sought to demonstrate that the Spanish language could be as beautiful and refined as classical Latin. Such refinement in language was a quality much esteemed by the learned classes of the time, for whom knowledge of Latin was required for advanced studies.

The academicians also wanted to prevent Spanish from suffering the corruption that befell Latin in the wake of the fall of the Roman Empire. Spanish served the needs of an empire that encompassed the world, from the North and South American continents to the Philippines and northern Africa. They wanted the Spanish language to maintain its unity while including diverse contributions from throughout Spain’s worldwide empire. The preparation of a dictionary to meet all these needs was the first task assigned to the Spanish Academy by Philip V.

The earliest members of the Spanish Academy, although learned, were not trained in the science of languages or in the other skills necessary to prepare a dictionary. Nevertheless, they mastered the skills and produced a six-volume Diccionario de autoridades Diccionario de autoridades (Royal Academy, Spain) (1726-1739; dictionary of authorities). The use of “authorities” in the title was chosen as a reference to citations from classic Spanish texts written by distinguished authors from all historical periods, citations that were used to support the dictionary’s definitions. Even today, scholars consult Diccionario de autoridades when studying Spanish texts from the eighteenth century and earlier.

The next edition of the dictionary (1780) was reduced to one volume by eliminating the references to the authorities found in the first edition. The Spanish Academy has never given up on its desire to complete another edition of Diccionario de autoridades, but the magnitude of the task and the lack of resources have left its aspiration unfulfilled. It has continued, however, to revise its single-volume dictionary, with a twenty-second edition of the dictionary published in 2001.

The Spanish Academy also wanted to standardize the spelling of words. It addressed this problem to some degree in its Diccionario de autoridades. In its Ortografía Ortografía (Royal Academy, Spain) (1741; orthography), it further simplified the rules for spelling. The academy revisited these rules regularly better to meet its goal of making the spelling of words correspond to their pronunciation. It issued another edition of Ortografía in 1763 and completed this early reform of spelling rules in its 1815 edition.

The Spanish Academy’s responsibility for the regulation of the Spanish language also required the preparation of a grammar book. The first edition of Gramática Gramática (Royal Academy, Spain) was published in 1771. The academy also prepared critical editions of classics of Spanish literature, including El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha, 1612-1620; better known as Don Quixote de la Mancha Don Quixote de la Mancha (Cervantes) ) by Miguel de Cervantes in 1780.

When Spain lost its colonies in the Americas in the nineteenth century, former colonists and Spaniards alike became more aware of the importance of maintaining the unity of the Spanish language. They recalled the fate of Latin after the breakup of the Roman Empire and did not want Spanish similarly to fracture into many languages with the breakup of Spain’s empire. Lovers of the Spanish language on both sides of the Atlantic sought to establish institutions to safeguard and develop it.

The Spanish Academy has recognized the academies of the Spanish language formed by Spain’s former colonies. Colombia created the first such academy in 1871. It was quickly followed by Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, and Guatemala. All these countries established their academies before the close of the nineteenth century, and they had clear effects upon the original Spanish Academy back in the mother country: Echoes of Venezuelan Andrés Bello’s Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos (Bello) (1847; grammar of the Spanish language destined for the use of Americans) can be found in the 1854 edition of the Spanish Academy’s Gramática, for example. In the 1884 edition of the Spanish Academy’s dictionary appeared words contributed by the Colombian, Venezuelan, and Mexican academies. Proponents of Spanish were gratified to see that Spain and Spanish America had united to work for the good of the Spanish language.

A second wave of activity to establish language academies in the rest of Spain’s former colonies began in the 1920’s. Only Argentina and Uruguay do not have academies of the Spanish language formally associated with the Spanish Academy, although they work in close cooperation with the Spanish Academy and the other national academies. Puerto Rico established its academy in 1952. The last academy was incorporated in 1973 to meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking population of the United States. All these academies are members of the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, which has developed mechanisms for the participation of all the academies in the elaboration of the Spanish Academy’s dictionary and grammar in addition to its other activities designed to promote the proper use of Spanish.


The Spanish Academy began regulating and developing the Spanish language at a time when vernacular languages increasingly replaced Latin as media of scholarship and great literature. The Spanish Academy produced its dictionaries and grammars to demonstrate how Spanish could rival Latin in its expression of the full range of human thought and experience. It has maintained the unity of the Spanish language while allowing for diversity in vocabulary and usage. From its inception, the Spanish Academy has been recognized as the authority on the proper and most elegant way to communicate in Spanish.

The Spanish Academy has impacted directly all Spanish speakers who have learned to read and write in Spanish since its founding. It spearheaded uniformity in spelling by publishing periodic revisions of its Ortografía. While English speakers must deal with variations in spelling between Great Britain and the United States, for example, for all Spanish speakers, all words are spelled the same. While English speakers struggle to spell words correctly, Spanish speakers do not have problems with spelling, because the Royal Academy revises spelling periodically to ensure that the spelling of Spanish words matches their pronunciation.

When the academy was established, Spanish society readily accepted the authority of an institution established to set the norms for correct usage of the Spanish language. It continues to enjoy great authority, although its critics claim that it is outdated and ineffective. While in the past it addressed only readers and writers, the academy’s audience now includes Spanish speakers who are primarily spectators and listeners.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ayala, Francisco. “The Spanish Royal Academy.” In Global Demands on Language and the Mission of the Language Academies, edited by John Lihani. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1988. Describes the challenges facing the Royal Academy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lapesa, Rafael. “La Real Academia Española: Pasado, realidad presente y futuro.” Boletín de la Real Academia Española 67, no. 242 (1987): 329-346. Discusses precursors to the Royal Academy, its history, and its current challenges.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Salvador, Gregorio. “El español y las Academias de Lengua.” Boletín de la Real Academia Española 72, no. 257 (1992): 411-427. Discusses the relationship between the Royal Academy and the national academies that together compose the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zamora, Juan. “The Academies of the Spanish Language in the United States.” In Global Demands on Language and the Mission of the Language Academies, edited by John Lihani. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1988. Discusses the motives for the founding of the Royal Academy and the creation of national language academies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zamora Vicente, Alonso. Real Academia Española. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1999. A detailed, richly illustrated history of the Spanish Academy. Discusses the current challenges facing the Academy and the criticisms it receives.

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Categories: History