A word that can’t be written

Some clever clogs has discovered a perfectly legitimate Spanish word that can’t actually be written down, because it’s in contrast with the rules of pronunciation.

Sounds boring and abstract, but it’s annoyed the language police in the form of the Real Acadamia Española (RAE), the official guardians of Castellano, who have had to admit that technically this “impossible” word is possible.

The word in question is described as:

el imperativo no voseante de segunda persona de singular del verbo salir

or the non-voseo second person singular imperative form of the verb “salir” (to go out).

Got it yet? No? OK then, the word is SALLE.

So, why the controversy?

The chap who found it is the author of a linguistics blog called “un arácnido, una camiseta, un espacio“, a great little blog for people who enjoy surfing the extremeties of Spanish. So the word is used if you order someone to go out or meet with someone else, using the pronoun “le” (hence the non-voseo bit, you use le instead of vos to address the person). So:

  • sálle al páso,
  • sálle al encuéntro

But since atonic pronouns which are appended to the verb must be joined onto the verb “as is”, sal+le must perforce be written as salle. But the pronunciation must be grave so you have an accent on the first vowel: sálle.

So by the rules of Spanish grammar you have a word that is written one way but pronounced another. Sounds daft to an English speaker, but it’s created great joy amongst Spanish speakers, quickly becoming a pub trivia quiz favourite

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