An Academy of the English Language…Not

Is the English language perfect as it is? As it continuously evolves (and sometimes regresses) and transforms, should there be a body in charge of regulating it? These are some of the questions that are being asked when it comes to establishing rules regarding the use of our widely spread language. The French language has the Académie française, Spanish has the Real Academia Española, and German has the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung, but there seems to be no equivalent for the English language apart from the speakers of the language itself who are the “ultimate authority” regarding the grammar, spelling and use of the language. Languages are living entities and as such, one might think that there should always be an institution in charge so they do not get out of control. We cannot predict what direction a language is going to take; there are many variables in play such as cultural changes due to globalization, immigration etc.; so, having a regulating body would help developing some cohesion regarding the use of the language.

Published dictionaries and style guides are considered to be commercial publications, but are not by any means, real arbitrators of what the English language is or is not. One of the reasons why there is not an academic body guiding and regulating the language could be that the English language has so often transformed and adopted so many words from different origins (such as Germanic and Latin) that it makes it difficult to control (comparable to a virus spreading, turning us into erratic-grammar zombies).

There may also be political reasons behind the fact that an English academy was never fully established. Author Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver’s Travels fame) once lobbied for the creation of a guiding body stating that “our language is extremely imperfect.” His proposal was supported by the Queen at the time, but as history often goes, she died before a final decision could be made. Later, in the United States, in the early 1800s, a bill was introduced into Congress to incorporate a national academy of the language, which was actually created 14 years later under the name American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres, presided over by John Quincy Adams; but again, it did not last due to lack of public support.

Another factor that may also come into play is the never ending British English vs. American English debate. This phenomenon can be traced back to when the new settlers were in the process of forging a new free, nation. The notion of breaking free from the monarchical British chains gave way to a “new use” of the language. This brings up another debatable point, which is that if there was to be an Academy of the English Language, where would it be physically located? In Britain, the original home of the English language? Any other country within the Commonwealth, where larger populations live? Or even in the United States, where the undeniably largest English-speaking population lives? Not to mention, dozens of other countries where English is an official language, like Ireland, the Philippines or India.

The fact of the matter continues to be that, the use of the English language has become so extremely widespread that English speakers around the world have given themselves a few extra not so appropriate liberties when it comes to its use. So, should there be a singular body in charge of regulating the language so that it doesn’t become an even bigger mess? Or is its liberty what makes it so adaptable, everlasting and incredibly user-friendly?