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It is based in Madrid, Spain, but is affiliated with national language academies in twenty-one other hispanophone (Spanish-speaking) nations through the Association of Spanish Language Academies. The RAE's emblem is a fiery crucible, and its motto is "Limpia, fija y da esplendor" ("[It] cleans, sets, and casts splendour").

The RAE is a major publisher of dictionaries and grammars, and has a formal procedure for admitting words to its publications. Its website includes an online dictionary and other resources, all in Spanish. Its most famous publication is the Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española (Dictionary of the Spanish Language of the Royal Spanish Academy), the "DRAE".

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