Question in English:

If the grammatical gender of "archipiélago" is masculine, why do I see so many instances in which it is preceded by a feminine article?

I was listening to this video:

Paraísos cercanos - Seychelles, naturaleza y quietud

when, at about minute 3:05, it sounds as if the narrator is saying "la archipiélago," which I thought was rather strange since I was sure “archipiélago” was masculine. (When I slowed down the speed of it, I was convinced that the narrator used "la" before "archipiélago.") So, I looked it up in both WordReference and the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (RAE). Both sources list this noun's gender as masuculine. Oddly enough, however, a Google search of Spanish pages for "la archipiélago" returned 4,730 pages. Granted, this is a paltry sum compared to the million plus pages of "el archipiélago," but still 4,730 pages is quite a lot. Is the use of "la archipiélago" incorrect? Or does the Academy accept both genders even though this is not indicated in the entry for "archipiélago" in its online dictionary?


La pregunta en español:

Si el género gramatical de "archipiélago" es masculino, ¿por qué veo muchas instancias en que está precedido por el artículo femenino?

Estaba escuchando este vídeo:

Paraísos cercanos - Seychelles, naturaleza y quietud

cuando, alrededor del minuto 3:05, suena como si el narrador dijera “la archipiélago,” que me pareció un poco extraño dado que estaba segura que “archipiélago” era masculino. (Cuando lo volví a escuchar a menor velocidad, estaba convencida que el narrador había usado "la" antes de "archipiélago".) Así que busqué la palabra tanto en WordReference como en el Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (RAE). Ambas fuentes enumeran el género de este sustantivo como masculino. Curiosamente, sin embargo, una búsqueda de Google (sólo páginas en español) devolvió 4,730 páginas. Concedido, ésta es una suma insignificante en comparación con el más del millón de páginas de “el archipiélago,” pero todavía 4,730 páginas es bastante. ¿Es el uso de “la archipiélago” incorrecto? O, ¿acepta la RAE ambos géneros aunque esto no se indique en su diccionario en línea?

  • I just listened to the clip and I'm 100% sure the narrator says "del archipiélago", not "de la archipiélago". When talking at a normal speed, the L sound seems to get paired to the A sound that follows because DE-LAR-CHI or, to be precise, DE-LA is easier to pronounce for a Spanish speaker than DEL-A, that's all. In fact, if it were saying "de la archipiélago" you wouldn't be hearing DE-LAR-CHI but something closer to DE-LAAR-CHI, with a liiiiight lengthening of the A sound. – Luis G. May 21 at 12:54
  • The video says "... la isla principal del archipiélago." It is a case of "blending" del with the initial a (...delarchipielago...) – DGaleano May 21 at 14:53
  • Maybe so, but if you look at the soundwave for this audio clip, you can see a clear break after what sounds like "la" and the beginning of the syllable "arch" in "archipiélago." I'd buy into your arguments on this if the break in the soundwave wasn't so clearly noticeable. Do you see what I am saying? NTL, it is rather presumptuous of me to disagree with a native speaker. IDK where @walen hails from, but DGaleano's profile clearly indicates he is a native. That said, if any native speakers hear (and see) this as "la archipiélago" instead of "del archipiélago," I'd love to have you comment. – Lisa Beck Jun 25 at 3:23
  • @LisaBeck Tenemos una pregunta en Meta donde explicamos ¿Quiénes somos? y la variedad de español que hablamos :) ¡Nos encantaría contar contigo en esa lista, por cierto! – Luis G. Jun 25 at 5:46

Some of the instances in your Google search are actually correct. For instance, several refer to a race called la Archipiélago 6.5 Mini, where there is an understood noun regata. Others pull up lists where the la is actually in parentheses referring to something else entirely, e.g.,

Concepcion (isla de la), archipiélago de las Marianas

Some of the others seem to be over zealous copy and pasting, only using "La archipiélago" in a "see more about la [Archipiélago de X]" where I imagine they copy and pasted the Wiki code for seeing more, and only changed the link and didn't think about the article.

Nonetheless, there are a handful of examples that aren't so easily explained away. One could be that someone originally intended to write "la isla" or similar, and ended up changing it to archipiélago and simply failed to update the article. That could account for some of them but there are still as you say, too many to account for by such effectively random errors.

But there's another explanation. The most determiners used with archipiélago are the singular articles, and overwhelmingly in combination with de. The relative frequencies from Google N-Gram say a lot of this story:

Comparison of rates for various forms of archipiélago

The green is plural articles (los and unos) and all demonstratives (este, estos, etc).

More often than not, if someone says the word archipiélago it is in the phonetic sequence /de.lar.tʃi'pje.la.go/, and if not, it's probably /u.nar.tʃi'pje.la.go/. Let's take a look at the beginning of those sequences. Does /de.lar/ represent de la ar- or del ar-? Does /u.nar/ represent un ar- or una ar-? In speech, it's basically ambiguous, and so either some people ultimately internalized it as feminine, or when proofreading, it doesn't sound wrong so it doesn't catch their attention.

  • Interesting points, you've made, guifa, and I love the addition of the Ngram. It's given me something to think about. In your opinion, though (and this may seem trifling because now I'm going to address a single instance of pronunciation), does the narrator in the video I mention say del ar- or de la ar-? When I used a tool to slow down the audio and look at a simultaneous graph of it, it looks as if it matches the latter more than the former. What do you think? A recording of it can be seen here. – Lisa Beck Apr 29 at 18:28
  • Your answer is extremely good. I doubt it can be improved upon. But I'll reserve la marca verde for now just to give others a chance to answer. TBT, I'd been wondering if this use of a feminine article might be some throwback to an earlier time when an archipiélago, because technically it is a group of "islas" was considered feminine. It wouldn't be the only time the narrator seems to use a phrase from earlier times (e.g., Algún viajero quisiera guardar más allá de la retina). De la retina may not be such a good example, but p/h you u/s what I'm getting at. – Lisa Beck Apr 29 at 19:00
  • 3
    In normal speech, del ar- y de la ar- should be indistinguishable (in most dialects of Spanish). I mean, it's not bad or careless Spanish to elide and resyllabify in this way, but the standard. Only in forced, careful, purposeful speech would you notice a difference. – pablodf76 May 21 at 12:51

The answer is that the elision rule turns "del archipiélago" into

de larchipiélago.

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