Saturday, February 16, 2008

R.A.E. -- The Royal Academy of English?


No, there is no such thing. But there is a Real Academia Española, or as it is more commonly referred to, the R.A.E. Aside from publishing dictionaries and engaging in academic work, the R.A.E. functions as the official regulator of the Spanish language worldwide. It does much of this work in collaboration with the other 20 national academies that belong to the Association of Spanish Language Academies.
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It may come as a surprise to many native English speakers that such an organization exists and some may not see the need for it. On the other hand, judging from my students reactions when I tell them there is no similar organization regulating the English language, many Spanish speakers find the lack of a regulatory body for the English language hard to believe.
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Indeed, some students have told me that they had assumed that Cambridge is the regulator of the English Language. (Sorry Oxford.) This is obviously because Cambridge ESOL, a non-profit department of the University of Cambridge, produces what are probably the most popular English level examinations in Europe, if not the world: First Certificate, Advanced Certificate, BULATS, etc. (Sorry, TOEFL and TOEIC.)
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After learning that English has no final arbiter, some of my students say that this lack of regulation must explain many of the inconsistencies of the language. Maybe, maybe not... I usually counter with my view that one of the reasons English is so dynamic a language is that it is not regulated by an Academy. I also suggest to them that perhaps the absence of an official regulating body has actually contributed to the development of English into the lingua franca of our time.
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Regardless of all that, the fact is that most other major languages have an official organization that sets the rules, arbitrates disputes, etc. Indeed, the R.A.E. was modelled after two older entities: the Italian Accademia della Crusca, created in 1582, and the French Académie française, which dates from 1635. (For what seems like a pretty extensive list of official bodies that regulate languages around the world, click here.)
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I've heard that part of the mission of the R.A.E. is to assure that Spanish speakers will always be able to read Cervantes. I don't know if that's true, and if it is, whether or not the R.A.E. has been successful at that, but a visit to the R.A.E. web-site's "Brief History" page sheds some light on the organization's origins and aims. Here is my translation of what I found there:
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"The Royal Spanish Academy was founded in 1713 by Juan Manuel Fernández Pacheco, marquis of Villena. King Phillip V approved its constitution on October 3, 1714 and placed it under his 'shelter and royal protection.'
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"Its purpose was 'to establish the sounds and vocabulary of the Spanish language with propriety, elegance, and purity.' This aim is symbolized by its emblem, which consists of a fiery crucible and the motto 'Cleanse, establish and give splendor,' which is faithful to the stated purpose of fighting against anything that changes the language's elegance and purity, and maintaining it in the state of fullness reached in the XVI century.
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"The institution has been adapting its functions to the times. According to the first article of its current statutes, the Academy presently 'has oversight as its main mission, so that the changes the Spanish language experiences in its constant adaptation to the needs of its speakers do not break with the essential unity maintained in the Hispanic world.' "
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As for the Association of Spanish Language Academies, below is my translation of information from its web-site:
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"In 1951 the 1st Congress of Academies of the Spanish Language was convened in Mexico by the then president of Mexico, Miguel Aleman, and a constitution of the Association of Academies agreed to. Its fundamental aim is to work assiduously for the defense, unity and integrity of the common language, and to provide oversight so that its natural development conforms to the tradition and intrinsic nature of Spanish.
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"The Association of Spanish Language Academies is composed of the twenty-two [national] Academies of Spanish that exist in the world: the Royal Spanish Academy (1713), the Colombian Language Academy (1871), the Ecuadorian Language Academy (1874), the Mexican Language Academy (1875), the Salvadorian Language Academy (1876), the Venezuelan Language Academy (1883), the Chilean Language Academy (1885), the Peruvian Language Academy (1887), the Guatemalan Language Academy (1887), the Costa Rican Language Academy (1923), the Philippine Spanish Language Academy (1924), the Panamanian Language Academy (1926), the Cuban Language Academy (1926), the Paraguayan Language Academy (1927), the Bolivian Language Academy (1927), the Dominican Language Academy (1927), the Nicaraguan Language Academy (1928), The Argentine Academy of Letters (1931), the Uruguayan National Academy of Letters (1943), the Honduran Language Academy (1948), the Puerto Rican Academy of Spanish (1955) and the North American Academy of Spanish (1973)."
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Language -- regulated or not, what a complicated business it all is, ain't it? ;-)
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Chao amig@s,
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Carloz

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Una de las muy contadas herencias que nos dejaron los conquistadores españoles. El Idioma. Con toda seguridad creo que no existe en el planeta otra lengua que permita expresar tan ampliamente, y a su vez, de una manera efímera y concisa si así se quiere, todo lo que una mente y un corazón deseen expresar.

MonicaV said...

Great post, thanks!

I think that the equivalent for the English language -- although it doesn't regulate in the same way as the RAE -- is the Oxford English Dictionary. The great thing about this is that instead of restricting the language, telling us what is and is not correct, it tries to reflect our ever-growing language as it really is. It tries to be as modern as our language is, rather than trying to keep our language as traditional as it is.

One example: the OED contains a long definition of the word ''doh!'', as used by Homer Simpson!

MonicaV
www.thamesvalleysummer.com