Royal Academies

Royal Academies
   The official role of the eight Royal Academies is to act as advisors to the government on their particular areas of responsibility, but in practice they have turned into free-standing learned societies, which devote themselves to organizing conferences, seminars, public lectures and courses, to conferring prizes and to specialized publishing. Membership is for life and, since the Academies are predominantly financed by the state, the official status of the members is that of civil servants, though the only remuneration is an allowance for attending meetings. Candidates for vacant seats are sponsored by Academy members, and the final selection is made by ballot of the academicians. The candidate gaining an absolute majority of votes is assigned the seat vacated by the deceased member, and is expected to deliver a learned discourse on his or her area of expertise, which normally includes a tribute to the previous occupant of the seat. Election to one of the Royal Academies is regarded as among the highest honours which can be achieved in a profession. A few particularly distinguished individuals are members of more than one Academy, a notable example being Pedro Laín Entralgo, who belongs to the Academies of Medicine, History and Language.
   Membership of the Academies is predominantly male, women occupying a mere 2.2 percent of the seats. In 1997, of a total of 312 members, there were seven women, spread over six of the eight institutions. Only the Academy of Pharmacy has more then one woman member, and the Academies of Medicine and Jurisprudence are exclusively male: the latter in particular has the reputation of being the most conservative. The women academicians best-known outside Spain are the operatic mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza (Academy of Fine Arts) and the novelist Ana María Matute (Academy of Language). The Academies function under an umbrella organization, the Institute of Spain (Instituto de España). This body was founded during the Civil War, when the existing Academies were unable to function, and initially provided a framework and a meeting-place for academicians in the Nationalist zone. Subsequently, it acquired the role of co-ordinating the activities of the Academies. In 1997, the Minister for Education and Culture, Esperanza Aguirre, announced that the Institute would soon be put on a new statutory footing, and that the annual budget of the Academies would be increased by 37 percent, from 643m pesetas in 1997 to 881m in 1998. The oldest of these bodies is the Royal Spanish Academy of Language (Real Academia Española de la Lengua, often simply referred to as the Real Academia Española, without qualifier), founded in 1714, which has forty-six members. It is arguably the one with the highest profile, as it compiles and publishes the various editions of the Academy Dictionary (Diccionario de la Real Academia), long regarded as setting the authoritative standard for acceptable language use, reflected in the original title of its 1726 predecessor, Diccionario de autoridades (Dictionary of Authorities). Traditionally, the Academy Dictionary took a conservative attitude towards the development of the language, and was slow to include new items, even when these had been in common use for a considerable time. Since 1993, however, the Academy has enjoyed the support of a foundation, with a capital of 800m pesetas, raised by donations from banks, businesses and the autonomous communities, which has enabled it to proceed to the establishment of a computerized database of the contemporary language, reflecting more comprehensively and accurately the use of new vocabulary in areas such computing, marketing and environment. The CREA project (Corpus de Referencia del Español Actual —Reference Corpus of Contemporary Spanish) was formally inaugurated in October 1995 with the signing of an agreement with the Ministry of Education. In 1995 a CD-ROM version of the twenty-first (1992) edition of the large standard dictionary was produced. This was followed in 1996 by an edition for secondary schools, the Diccionario Escolar de la Real Academia, a CD-ROM version of which was also planned. Despite this rapid modernization in its philosophy and practice, the Academy continues to see its role as that of defending the purity of the Spanish language, in accordance with its motto, Limpia, fija y da esplendor (Purify, codify and enhance). Its President, Fernando Lázaro Carreter, has frequently made public statements deploring the inroads of Anglo-American influence, and expressing anxieties about the position of Spanish in relation to the other languages of Spain, particularly in view of the policies of language normalization followed in the autonomous communities.
   The Academy of Language is also the body which rewards distinction in creative writing. Several prominent novelists are members, including Miguel Delibes, Luis Goytisolo and Camilo José Cela. This is one of the factors which has earned the Academy the reputation of being the most liberal and innovative of what remains a very conservative group of institutions. Next in antiquity, according to the generally accepted dating, is the Academy of History, founded in 1738, which has thirty-six members. The St Ferdinand Academy of Fine Arts (Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando) dates from 1744, and is the largest, with fifty-seven members. The expansion of scientific and philosophical investigation in the nineteenth century saw a wave of new foundations: the Academies of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences (Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales) (1847), Moral and Political Sciences (Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas) (1857), Medicine (Real Academia Nacional de Medicina) (1861, but deriving from an earlier institution founded in 1733) and Jurisprudence and Legislation (Real Academia de Jurisprudencia y Legislación) (1882, but based on an earlier foundation of 1730). The Academy of Pharmacy (Real Academia de Far-macia) was the latest to assume its present form, in 1946, though it is actually one of the most ancient, deriving from an institution founded by Philip II in 1589. Although members of the various Academies complain from time to time that they are not consulted by the government, as envisaged in their foundation statutes, the slowness with which they conduct their deliberations has led to their being by-passed when major programmes of expansion require to be implemented. Significantly, they have had little or no input into the various National Science Plans (see also science), where the running has been made by the CSIC and the universities.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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