6 examples of the language police

The French Academy normalizes the use of the French language. What are its counterparts in other countries? Language academies in Italy, Holland, Spain.

The Académie française, the Real Academia Española, the Accademia della Crusca… and another 120 or so more language academies act as authorities whose word is law, whether it’s for sworn translations, technical translations or indeed for any other use of the language.

The language academies, these ‘Language Police’ are the authorities responsible for determining what is right and what is not in the use of language. But not all of them have the same origin, the same mission or even the same function. Some languages are perfectly able to survive without a body such as these. Let’s take a brief look at the subject…

For a translation into Italian, check with the Accademia della Crusca

The oldest language academy still in operation is Accademia della Crusca founded in 1582 in Florence. When it was founded, its original objective was to create an official language for the country. Of all the dialects spoken in the boot-shaped peninsula at the time, Tuscan was chosen because of its similarity to Latin and its ‘purity’. However it was only after the unification of Italy in 1861 that its use became widespread.

For a translation into French, you should refer to the Académie Française

The Académie Française, known in English as the French Academy, was founded in 1635 by Richelieu. Now what could be its mission? According French Academy’s website, its objective was ” to wisely and economically build a language different from that of specialists, scholars and corporations, with the clarity and elegance attributed to Latin, which made no disctinction between the language in its written or  spoken forms, and which would eventually draw its strength from both its use and the standards it set.”

For a translation into Spanish, you can trust in the RAE

If the French Academy opted, throughout its history, to play a more regulatory role, the Real Academia Española, known in English as the Royal Spanish Academy, is distinguished by a more open attitude to change and linguistic development. Is this because of the influence exerted by the sheer diversity of the Spanish language as spoken by about half a billion people? The Spanish Royal Academy was founded in the eighteenth century in response to the arrival on the scene of its French counterpart, and assumes this difference, stating that it aims to watch over the “good use and unity of a language in constant evolution and expansion.” The RAE works in collaboration with another 21 Spanish language academies, within the framework of the Association of Spanish Language Academies.

For a translation into Dutch, refer to the Nederlandse Taalunie

If the Accademia della Crusca, the Académie Française and the Real Academia Española are legacies of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the Nederlandse Taalunie is a purely contemporary product. This institution was only founded in 1980 in The Netherlands. Its mission is defined by an international treaty, signed later by the other countries where Dutch is spoken, such as Belgian Flanders, Surinam and the islands of St. Martin, Aruba and Curacao. The treaty and the academy itself strive to produce common policies to unify the language.

For English and Chinese… be guided by use!

There are, however, many languages that are not governed by language academies:of the 7000 languages spoken in the world, only 122 (according to Wikipedia) have their own language police:

  • English is probably the most best-known example of a “free” language. All attempts to create an English language academy were rejected in the interests of freedom of expression.
  • Cantonese, spoken in southern China, is a language which evolves very quickly in lexical terms, so much so that this is said to cause difficulties of understanding between generations.

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This article has been written by Mathieu

Mathieu was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. After studying Literature and Linguistic Research, he moved to Argentina where he is currently a translator and a web editor.