Espana proudly flies its tilde at heart of Europe

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The Independent Online
Four years after the European Union tried to suppress the Spanish tilde - the characteristic squiggle over the letter n - from European computer keyboards, Madrid is cheekily imposing its beloved tilde on an enlarged EU as part of its logo for the Spanish presidency which starts in July.

As dear to the hearts of Spaniards as is the cedilla to the French and the umlaut to the Germans, the logo, unveiled last week and pictured above right, shows a disproportionately large tilde crowning an e for Espana (or Europa) surrounded by the 12 stars of the Union.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the tilde to the Spanish-speaking world. When Brussels called upon Madrid in 1991 to remove the n on Spanish-made keyboards to conform with the single market enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, howls of protest (heralded by upside-down exclamation marks - but that is another story) reached the highest levels in the land.

The Colombian Nobel prize-winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa signed a manifesto defending the tilde as the quintessential symbol of the Spanish language, and the Royal Spanish Academy lent its portentous weight to the campaign to save this vital component of the national patrimony. After years of heroic struggle, on 16 April 1993 Spain finally passed a decree making the tilde compulsory on Spanish keyboards, a decision that was accepted by the EU and upheld in the Maastricht treaty.

As well as looking pretty, the tilde is "perhaps the only visual sign that identifies Spaniards in Europe", according to the logo's designer, Josep Maria Mir, from Barcelona. It also has the essential quality of enabling the reader to distinguish betweenwords.

A cana, for example, is a small glass of beer, while a cana is South American underworld slang for policeman - something like "the filth". A cono is a cone, a cono is not a word that normally appears in a family newspaper.

The n is completely different from the n and has its own entry in the dictionary.

But there is irony as well as a national flourish in Mr Mir's red-and-yellow design. Linguistically the tilde belongs only to the letter n: it is no more possible for Spanish to have an e-tilde than for English to have a dotted z.