Punky Spanish spelling

When I was researching Spanish text messaging for Question #55 in my book, I was intrigued by the frequent substitution of the letter k for qu and c. This pattern is especially curious because the letter k isn’t native to Spanish. It normally appears only in borrowings such as kilómetro.

A friendly redditor explained this texting phenomenon as follows:

Not sure about other countries, but in Spain, substituting the “k” traditionally conveyed certain social/cultural/political leanings. It goes back to the early post-Franco years and was initially a punk way to hack the language (see Kaka de Luxe, Rock Radikal Vasco, etc.). Basque also has had an influence.

That’s a lot of power for a simple letter of the alphabet.

Given this background, I was excited to see many uses of k in business names and graffiti when I was in Spain in May. Here are some pictures, with my captions as color commentary.

Here the “cool” spelling of “katedral” contrasts with the normal spelling of “cafetería”.

In this graffiti calling for a street protest, the “k” of “kalle” is a natural fit with the gender-neutral “x” of “todxs”.

The accent mark is missing, too.

Here the street-smart “k” is coupled with another deliberate misspelling, of “z” for “c”. The full conventional spelling would be “rinconcito”.

OK, this graffiti has nothing to do with “k”. But I couldn’t resist including it because it was so striking to see a pro-Franco slogan in the year 2018, a full 43 years after the dictator’s death. Note also that the the tilde in “España” is present.

5 thoughts on “Punky Spanish spelling

  1. Ruth E Smith

    In times past, I remember seeing ‘Amerika’ used by more extreme counter-cultural advocates, particularly those with communist leanings, though it could have been any of them.

    It makes you wonder if this is part of a wider Western inclination to draw linguistic attention to whatever message they have.

    The Franco graffiti does seem anachronistic, especially among those inclined to even do graffiti.

    Interesting! Thank you, Judy!

    1. jhochberg Post author

      That’s true about Amerika — hadn’t occurred to me. Did you notice the hammer and sickle drawn over the pro-Franco graffiti?

  2. Jann Randle

    And the pro-Franco slogan was written over the Anarchist symbol, the letter A inside a circle. And those were painted on top of the white layer meant to cover up older graffiti. This is a busy political space!

    I remember reading about the okupa movement–when the bottom dropped out of the Spanish economy after the building bubble and subsequent debt and corruption scandals–1990s?? The combination of large numbers of unemployed people and abandoned buildings led to a movement to find housing by occupying these under-utilized spaces.


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