Language Regulation

Is the foreign language you are studying regulated? Many countries have bodies which officially govern their national language.

The most famous of these is probably the Académie Française, the French language moderator whose role is “to work, with all possible care and diligence, to give our language definite rules and to make it pure, eloquent, and capable of dealing with art and science.” However don’t try to tell French Canadians that they have to follow the Académie’s rules- in Quebec the Office Québécois de la Langue Française holds forth on how the language should be spoken.

French is not the only language to have multiple standardization bodies. Portugal’s Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Classe de Letras (Lisbon Science Academy, Class of Letters) is trumped in Brazil by the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters). The National Language Authority governs Urdu in Pakistan, while the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language makes the rules in India. The bad blood between mainland China and Taiwan is carried into linguistic governance- the People’s Republic of China has the State Language and Letters Committee and the Republic of China (Taiwan) has the National Languages Committee.

However, aside from these few cases, international collaboration seems to be the rule in language regulation. The Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography) is composed of 18 councilors from Germany, 9 from Austria, 9 from Switzerland, and 1 each from the South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. The Odbor za standardizaciju srpskog jezika (Board for Standardization of the Serbian Language) was founded in 1997 as a collaborative effort between institutions in Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska (one of the two main political entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina). The Baraza la Kiswahili la Taifa (National Swahili Council) of Tanzania regulates the Swahili language and works in partnership with the Chama cha Kiswahili cha Taifa (National Association of Kiswahili) in Kenya. The Academy of Persian Language and Literature includes members from Iran, Tajikstan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan while the Academy of the Arabic Language has an even broader reach, uniting councilors from Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Sudan, Israel, and Somalia.

Governance of the Spanish language, meanwhile, is a truly global effort involving 22 countries and one territory. The Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (Association of Spanish Language Academies) is, as the name suggests, a council which unites regulatory institutions from across the Spanish-speaking world. Founded in 1951 in Mexico, the Association brought in the historic Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy) and has welcomed such newcomers as the United States’ Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (North American Academy of the Spanish Language), founded in 1973 in New York.

However, despite being home to a linguistic council for Spanish, the United States has no regulatory body for the English language. In fact English is not a regulated language in any country in the world. English speakers rely on dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster’s and Oxford English, high-quality publications, and the speech of the Queen of England as sources of “proper” language, but even these sources are up for disputation. The English language is governed directly and democratically by its hundreds of millions of speakers, and it seems to be doing just fine.

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