The Peruvian Nobel Laureate for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, poses with students during the E-Day Celebration at the Cervantes Institute in Beijing, China. Photo by EFE.
The so-called “Rain of Words”, a launching of balloons with Spanish words written on them, from the central headquarters of the Cervantes Institute in Madrid. Photo by EFE.
“Querétaro” is Named the Prettiest Word in the Spanish Language
The name of a Mexican city was elected Spanish speakers’ favorite word on a day in which their language was honored all over the world
El País: Querétaro, la palabra más bonita del español
Paula Escalada Medrano reporting from Madrid June 18, 2011
Neither sentimiento nor gracias nor flamenco nor alegría (Spanish pronunciation guide). The prettiest word in Spanish isn’t even in the Royal Academy’s dictionary: Queretaro, four syllables that together form a word that is unknown for many and is no more than the name of a Mexican city. It means “island of blue salamanders”; it was nominated by the actor Gael García Bernal, and it won the most votes of the 30+ words nominated by famous Spanish-speaking personalities for a contest by the Cervantes Institute.
After a month of voting in which 33,000 people voted for their favorite word online, the winner was announced today for El Día E (E Day: E for Español), a worldwide fiesta in honor of the Spanish language. The 78 Cervantes centers in 44 countries across the earth are open to the public today and are celebrating diverse cultural activities. This is the third day of a Cervantes Institute project to disseminate Spanish-language culture on the five continents.
The celebration began with the launch of the traditional Lluvia de palabras (“rain of words”: balloons with Spanish words written on them) at 11 AM in the local time of each Cervantes center. Afterward each hosted a full day’s program of cultural activities for the public.
One of the first centers to begin the festivities was in Beijing, and it outdid itself with a visit from the Nobel Literature Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who welcomed Chinese Spanish students to a “a very large family spread out across the world.”
“I’m very happy that there are Spanish students here in China and that this language attracts the curiosity and interest of the new generations,” Vargas Llosa said. There is more interest in the language in that country every year. The center in Beijing already has close to 20,000 students, and its admissions double every year.
In Madrid, Carmen Caffarel, Director of the Cervantes Institute, inaugurated the event alongside Cervantes Prize-winning author Ana María Matute and Minister of Culture Ángeles González-Sinde, who in his speech paid homage to writers like Julio Cortázar, Borges, and Quevedo.
“It’s a festival which we are sharing with the entire Spanish-speaking community, and it’s very beautiful to celebrate and display the great culture which has accumulated in our language, the wealth of the people and the potential contained in communities that speak it. Spanish doesn’t have an owner; we all speak it together,” Caffarel said. Alcalá, the central street of the celebration, was filled with music and dance, and the smallest attendees enjoyed activities like “word-painting,” in which their faces were decorated with their favorite word.
Among the activities which will take place today are an accent contest in Tunisia, a concert by singers Julieta Venegas and Natalia Lafourcade in Bordeaux, a poetic conversation with Silvio Rodríguez, and a meeting with Cuban writer Reinaldo Montero in Athens.
E-Day celebrates the richness of a language spoken by 500 million people whose use is not limited to the 21 countries in which it is the official language. According to the Cervantes Institute, Spanish is the second-most studied language in the world. The number of students of Spanish as a second language surpassed 20 million in 2010.
In the European Union (besides Spain), close to 30 million people speak our language with some degree of competence. In Brazil, the nation with the most Cervantes centers, nine, some 5.5 million youth can maintain a conversation in Spanish. The United States, which counts almost 40 million Spanish speakers in its population, is projected to be the nation with the most Spanish speakers by 2050.
-Paula Escalada Medrano
Querétaro, Magical Again 25 Years Later
It’s purely coincidental, but it’s quite curious all the same: for Spanish soccer fans over age 30, Querétaro is already a magic word. In the Mexican city with the same name, the Spanish national team played Denmark in the second round of the 1986 World Cup. The Danes, who counted Jesper Olsen, Morten Olsen, and a very young Michael Laudrup in their ranks, were the favorites, but that day was miraculous. Millions of Spaniards who stayed up all night to support their country were astonished as their team, which hadn’t accustomed them to success in recent years, obliterated its rival 5-1 behind four goals by an inspired Butragueño. The players, Zubizarreta, Julio Alberto, Camacho, Goikoetxea, Tomás Reñones, Calderé, Víctor Muñoz, Míchel, Gallego, Butragueño, and Julio Salinas, were baptized by the press as “The Heroes of Querétaro”. The Real Madrid forward established himself that day as the top goalscorer of the tournament with five, although the Englishman Gary Lineker eventually surpassed him.
Four days later, Belgium sent Miguel Muñoz’s team home after penalty kicks. But that’s another story, one that’s the same as all the others.
Do you know what the strangest thing is? That game was played exactly a quarter of a century ago, on the 18th of June 1986. Exactly 25 years later, the word Querétaro is back in the headlines, once again for good news. It is now called the prettiest word in Spanish. But it was already music to the ears of football fans.