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Institute marks 80 years as guardian of Colombia’s linguistic heritage

By Jaime Ortega Carrascal

Bogota, Aug 24 (EFE).- The Caro and Cuervo Institute (ICC), known for its colossal “Dictionary of the Construction and Regime of the Castilian Language,” is marking 80 years as guardian of Colombia’s linguistic heritage and diversity and focal point for the study of Spanish.

It was founded on Aug. 25, 1942, and has been located since its inception at the Cuervo Urisarri House, an elegant, 18th-century, two-story building in downtown Bogota that has three interior patios.

An educational center and host of exhibitions, it was the birth home of writer, philologist and linguist Rufino Jose Cuervo Urisarri (1844-1911).

The institute holds the unique distinction of being a public establishment attached to the Culture Ministry and tasked with “safeguarding the country’s linguistic and literary heritage,” ICC’s deputy academic director, Juan Manuel Espinosa, told Efe.

The institute was founded with the mission to disseminate the country’s entire body of linguistic knowledge, “complete work on the ‘Dictionary of the Construction and Regime of the Castilian Language’ that was begun by Cuervo and interrupted by his death in 1911 and contribute to linguistic and philological research on Colombia’s intangible assets,” Espinosa said.

The dictionary is a massive, eight-volume work that Cuervo began in 1886 and the institute completed more than a century later, in 1995. In recognition of that effort, the ICC was awarded Spain’s prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities in 1999.

“This is a dictionary that contains practically the entire history of Spanish, from its origins in Spain to the way it’s constructed, how it’s articulated, how the language is organized in all parts of Hispanic America,” Espinosa said, adding that acclaimed Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014) called it the “the great novel of words.”

He noted that the 1982 Nobel literature laureate “never wanted a political post in Colombia” but agreed to become “a member of the board of directors of Caro and Cuervo out of the respect and passion he had for that dictionary and for another of the great works the institute produced from the 1950s to the 1980s, the ‘Ethnographic Linguistic Atlas of Colombia.'”

“That atlas shows how Spanish is used everywhere in the country,” Espinosa said, noting by way of example that in certain parts of Colombia people use the word “guambito” for “niño” (child) and in others they say “chino” or “pelado.”

A cartographic work applied to language, it serves as a “research input and as inspiration for artists, musicians, linguists and literary figures.”

ICC, whose long list of awards includes the prestigious Bartolome de las Casas Prize, also owes its name to Miguel Antonio Caro (1843-1909), a writer and philologist who served as president of Colombia from 1894-1898.

Caro and Cuervo jointly penned another classic work, “Grammar of the Latin Language.”

The ICC also has the mission of safeguarding the country’s linguistic diversity, which includes Spanish, 65 indigenous languages, two creole languages spoken by people of African descent (San Andres-Providencia Creole and Palenquero), Romani and Colombian Sign Language.

“We also work with (Spain’s) Cervantes Institute to study and investigate the different aspects and ways of teaching Spanish as a foreign language and as a second language for people from Spanish-speaking countries, such as indigenous communities, or the deaf community, whose first language is not Spanish,” Espinosa added.

The institute has a second location in Bogota’s outskirts, Hacienda Yerbabuena, that is home to the Imprenta Patriotica (Patriotic Press), which produces books by hand using artisanal techniques. EFE


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