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Is That Spelled Right? Or Spelt Right? The Role of Language Regulators
September 14, 2017 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on Is That Spelled Right? Or Spelt Right? The Role of Language Regulators

When it comes to language, who says what’s right and what’s wrong? Please don’t say Google!

More than 109 languages from all around the globe currently have language regulators. This includes French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Somali, Tamil and Quechua. But what exactly are language regulators?

Also called language academies, language regulators are linguistic authorities whose mission is often to arbitrate, unify and promote correct usage of their language, including spelling and pronunciation. Many of them publish dictionaries and style guides.

Not all language regulators look or work the same though. For example, some languages are spoken primarily in one country and their language regulator might be supported by that country’s government as an extension of their cultural programs. But other language regulators might be international bodies that cross borders and recognize multiple language variants.

The work of most language regulators is in an advisory, non-binding capacity, such as France’s French Academy, which publishes an official French dictionary. However, a handful of language regulators have more authority, such as the Quebec Board of the French Language (OQLF), which has been nicknamed the “language police” by some. The OQLF can levy fines on businesses not for incorrect comma usage, but for selling products locally that are not available in French.

What About English? Does English Have a Language Regulator?

English is a major language spoken by hundreds of millions of native and non-native speakers around the world. Yet, the English language does not have an official regulatory body to control it. For that reason, English could be a described as a language of controlled anarchy.

There is no one authority to determine what is linguistically right or wrong. That said, English does have de facto rule setters, a handful of informally chosen but influential sources. These include the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style (always at hand on my desk but not so often checked, I confess) here in the United States and the Oxford English Dictionary in the United Kingdom. And have you thought about where your spell check and other tools come from? Major US tech companies have a hand in arbitrating English usage too. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, et al. we’re looking at you!

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