Does English Need an Academy to Protect It?

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In June, the Wire noted that the encroachment of such loathsome Yankeeisms as "Hey guys!" (referring to a mixed-sex crowd) and potato "chips" (not "crisps") left the U.K. Daily Mail no choice but to declare war on American English. But such measures are short-lived. How, in the long run, can English speakers preserve the distinctive dialects of their shared language? One earnest proposal from the Queen's English Society is to establish an Academy of English, modeled on the French Académie Française, to enforce proper usage. Elizabeth Renzetti, a columnist for Canada's Globe and Mail, weighs that and other options:

The proposed Academy of English wouldn't police the language, so much as act as its bodyguard: pushing stray apostrophes back into line, reminding students that "innit'' may be a suitable sentence-ender on the bus, but is probably not something you want to say during a job interview, unless you don't actually want the job. In other words, idiomatic speech is fine, but formal English still has its place, and its rules should be respected.

Renzetti, for her part, suggests that extreme measures to shore up British English may be unnecessary. "If anything," she writes, even without a language academy the British "already maintain a stubborn refusal to move an inch (excuse me, 'budge over') where language is concerned"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.