Spanish letter 'ch'

From: Ricardo Bermell-Benet (
Date: Thu Jun 03 1999 - 12:15:26 EDT

Recently the topic of spanish letter 'ch' has been commented
in this list (initially under the subject "Questions about proposed
characters"). I think i can clarify some points.

First the basics...

Spanish alphabet consists of the 28 following letters:
        a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, (n~),
        o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, x, y, z
(For an authorized reference see (in Spanish))

Of that letters, 26 are "simple letters". The remaining 2,
'ch' and 'll', are "compound letters". It is ok to say
"the letter 'ch' consists of letters 'c' and 'h'".

Compound letter 'ch' represents a phoneme that absolutely
cannot be obtained from the phonetic value of simple letters
'c' and 'h'. The same applies to 'll' and 'l'.

Alphabetical order

In a list of spanish letters (not words) alphabetically ordered,
'ch' is located between 'c' and 'd', and 'll' between 'l' and 'm.

In a list of spanish words alphabetically ordered, there is
two possible criteria to apply:
- traditional: to treat 'ch' and 'll' as proper (not separated)
  letters, as dictates their order in the alphabet
- modern: to treat 'ch' and 'll' not as units, but as separated
  single letters

The modern criterium was proposed by the "Asociacion de Academias de
la Lengua Espan~ola" in 1994. At least in Spain it has been fully
accepted. (See below)

It is a fact many times ignored or misunderstood (even by spanish
speakers) that, in spite of the modern ordering method for words,
'CH' AND 'LL' ARE STILL REAL LETTERS. For a symbol (or aggregate of
symbols) to be considered as a letter, is more important the criterium
"to represent a phoneme" than "to be ordered as a unit".

Motivation to the change

What is the reason for changing a tradition of centuries in the
method of ordering words?

1) Respect to the social impact the unique penalty is to read/search
   in a different manner, mainly in *printed* old dictionaries
   (vocabularies, catalogs, etc.) The insignificance of such a effort
   is comparable with the difference betwen reading (human task, no
   computer around here) a date in format 01/12/98 or 1998-12-01.

2) The benefits for Information Technologies (computer related
   matters and so) are tremendous. One can apply the contemporary
   computer systems technologies without worring about special
   algorithms or ad hoc solutions.

   And the penalty is low, there not exist a tradition **in computer
   technologies** about the "traditional" criterium, because of the
   relative "youngness" of IT. (Mmm, perhaps i'm very Spain-centrist
   at this point (?))

Extent of the change

In Spain, as far as i know, the modern criterium has been fully
accepted by all the people and it is applied daily without problems,
inclusive for software, and not only for academic dictionaries.
I have consulted two infomation managers ("documentalistas")
and both of them confirm that point. (By the way, i'm computer

Of course, there is a coexistence with old *printed* dictionaries
and documents. As an example, i have got at home dictionaries
of both types; the olders use traditional criterium and the newers
the modern criterium (and this do not cause me double personality ;-),
but at work (or at home) in front of a computer i *always* expect
the modern criterium.

In another countries... i don't know the precise situation,
but the recommendation for the modern criterium was given
by the "Asociacion de Academias de la Lengua Espan~ola"
(Asociation of Spanish Language Academies), wich consists
of "the 22 [national] academies of spanish language that exists
in the world" (see

Perhaps anybody can say us what level of acceptance the modern
criterium has out of Spain (?)

I hope this helps,

        Ricardo Bermell-Benet (Valencia, Spain)

P.D. When i say "to order" say "to sort", as you like.
Sure I need to improve my english. Are both words valid?

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