A language academy is a national institution charged with defending "correct usage" of a language and pontificating on new usages. Although many European languages are theoretically controlled by their respective language academies, no version of English is "managed" in this way.
Why academies?[edit | edit source]
Over the ages, in all cultures and languages, there seem to have always been people complaining about the degeneration of language and others defending its natural evolution. Typically every existing generation thinks that the new generation is speaking a debased form of the language and laments what it sees as the loss to the "true language". The cycle then repeats itself with the next generation.
There is consequently a great tendency to wish to set in stone some idealised "perfect" version of the language which can then be officially controlled.
Problems with the concept[edit | edit source]
- Official academies are based on the idea of prescriptive grammar - the idea that a series of absolute God-given rules exist which control the language for all time.
- They ignore the reality of language development. Languages are living evolving things. The language speaking community continuously generates new words and usages. It does this irrespective of the wishes or desires of the academy.
- The idea that the academy controls the language is, in reality, a polite fiction. What happens in fact is that some native speakers experiment with a new word or change in the language; the change gets fixed in the language; some twenty years later the academy decides the change is acceptable and gives it its blessing.
History of academies[edit | edit source]
The first such Academy was founded in Italy in 1582, and had by 1612 produced its first dictionary. The French Academy was set up in 1635, producing its dictionary in 1694, although there were already two, more scholarly, works in existence. The Spanish RAE was set up in 1713 and completed its first dictionary in 1739.
English[edit | edit source]
For better or worse, English has never been subject to the dictates of a language academy. Some of the potential problems associated with attempting to set one up are explored in our article "spelling reform". Subsequent English dictionaries were a much more “commercial” enterprise, although not necessarily commercially viable, the Oxford English Dictionary being a notable example.