WHEN A reader of Spain's premier daily, El Pas, wrote to reproach an ungrammatical usage, she exclaimed: "If only Lazaro Carreter were still around . . ." But he was, and, when he quoted the correspondent in his next column, one could sense his relish at being cited as the yardstick for correct Spanish. Emeritus Professor Fernando Lazaro Carreter was a keen monitor of the mass media and its use of language, a subject on which he wrote with formidable erudition and mordant wit.
He headed the language's governing body, the Real Academia Espanola (RAE) from 1991 to 1998. Like his fellow academician Emilio Lorenzo, Lazaro saw the Spanish vocabulary absorbing influences from without and everyday speech learning nuances and malapropisms from talkshow hosts, football commentators or pompous politicians.
Although he leaves a hundred-odd learned monographs in philology and literary criticism, his best-known work was a long series of newspaper columns on the way the language of his adored Cervantes was mutating into what he called a form of "neoespanol". Appearing first in ABC, then in El Pas, these acerbic essays were collected as El dardo en la palabra ("A Dart to the Word", 1997; followed by El nuevo dardo en la palabra, "A Fresh Dart", 2003) and have sold nearly half a million copies.
Born in Saragossa, Lazaro Carreter was educated in the city's Instituto Goya and enrolled first at Saragossa University, graduating in 1945 from the Complutense in Madrid, where he stayed to complete a doctorate in Romance languages. He lectured there until 1949 when - at just 26 - he won a chair in linguistics and literary criticism at Salamanca University. He loved Salamanca, later becoming its dean of philosophy and letters. In 1972 he moved to the Autonomous University of Madrid and was elected to the RAE. He returned to the Complutense for the last decade of his university career, retiring in 1988. He was twice elected head of the illustrious academy. Internationally, he was one of the most renowned Hispanists of his age, addressing conferences in Britain, Italy, Japan and Latin America, earning visiting professorships and being awarded too many honorary degrees, literary prizes and decorations to catalogue. …