In short: as far as I know, English in the USA has no official standards from the government for how it's to be written and used. There are just dictionaries. Spanish however, has the RAE, which is an official regulating body, and Japanese has the Ministry of Education which is also official. Has this lead to any differences in how English is developing compared to languages with official regulators?


In detail:

I'm really interested in hearing about differences or just any findings anyone has on this topic.


According to the linked section of that Wikipedia page, people did try to standardize English a few hundred years ago, and it seems like it worked since we don't spell things like Shakespeare did.

An example of the old spelling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-language_spelling_reform#/media/File:Shakespeare_grave_-Stratford-upon-Avon_-3June2007.jpg

I know a similar reform happened with Japanese: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_script_reform#History

These reforms make sense, it keeps the written language matching with the spoken language. My question however is about how these languages are now, in modern times.

Does English accept bigger changes than languages like Spanish or Japanese would?

I'm sure all languages accept changes to accepted grammar, like caring less about "you and I" vs "you and me" or caring less about "lie down" vs "lay down" or "fewer" vs "less". People are going to speak the way they want. But do languages develop at different rates?

Does English accept bigger changes than regulated languages? I see "thru" a lot instead of "through", that would be an example of a big change.

Or does English allow dialects to flourish more? I think to learners of English, people that speak the so called "AAVE" or people that have a thick southern accent would sound radically different to standard English, and going back to Japanese I know there are dialects that are almost unintelligable to native speakers, but I wonder if those dialects grow or evolve as much as English ones?


I know this is a broad topic and I'm not exactly sure what I'm asking anymore. What I'm really looking for is either someone who's gone down this same thought train and found something or just any input or interesting facts anyone has related to this topic.

Thank you

  • 1
    the Académie Française is famous for its edicts against English loanwords which are almost entirely ignored by the general public which almost uniformly prefers the loans (although I believe formal reporting, as in the news, tends to follow them). That certainly seems to suggest that linguistic academies have quite limited power. Even in the Soviet Union, there was resistance to the 1918 spelling reform frequently requiring the removal of the characters from printing presses, something that would be impossible in the modern day or a liberal democracy
    – Tristan
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 9:36

1 Answer 1


I should mention that "government and binding" is a technical theory of syntax, and has no relationship to governments controlling what people do.

The more general form of the question is, can strong social action influence language choices: the answer is, unquestionably. If a government actively discourages one language and encourages another, there is a probability that the discouraged language will simply cease to exist at some point, because people will have no positive incentive to use the language and plenty of disincentive to not use it. Below the level of active repression, government and quasi-governmental institutional policy can have a similar effect, again because the dispreferred language enjoys no advantages compared to the preferred language.

The case of Norwegian is instructive in one way. There are two literary standards, Bokmål (the numerically dominant written form) and Nynorsk. The Norwegian Language Council (a government entity) regulates that language, and the Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature (not a government entity) regulates a spelling standard known as Riksmål. Then there is also Nynorsk – I don't understand whether there is a single governing body that says what is "in" Nynorsk. But these are literary standards: people talk in the local dialect, and there are about as many spoken dialects of Norwegian as there are of Italian. In this instance, you are more likely to be called out for speaking Bokmål when you talk in the local dialect, as opposed to being criticized for not using "proper Bokmål" in a context where you would use Valdresmål (chatting with a neighbor). Government standardization has no measurable effect on how people talk, but it does affect how people write.

It would be interesting to determine the degree of observed uniformity in written English, which is unregulated, as a function of country being spoken in many countries. I do not know if there is any difference between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (picking a narrow subset) in terms of variability of actual written output by people. I would not be surprised to learn that the educational systems and cultures of these countries differ in a detectable way as reflected in written language patterns. I don't know of any systematic studies of the question.

  • 1
    "If a government actively discourages one language and encourages another, there is a probability that the discouraged language will simply cease to exist at some point" based on the continued existence of Basque, Breton, and Welsh, this process must be slooooow
    – Tristan
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 9:28
  • 1
    To be fair, Welsh is actively encouraged and has been for a while. But your point is good anyway, and perhaps that Welsh survived long enough to receive its modern encouragement adds to it. Hmmm. As you were. Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 16:56
  • 1
    @Tristan, it is slow, though not slooooow if I counted right. It's also dependent on the extent / nature of discouragement, as well as the vitality of the society speaking the discriminated-against language. Language extinction is different from particle physics: there isn't an equation where we can plug in a couple of numbers and say "X will definitely happen". A comparison of Basque, Breton, Welsh, Irish & Scots Gaelic, and the various Saami languages would be interesting, but more of a separate question.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 17:09

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