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Monday, 14 December 2009

Introducing Sab's New Academy of the Ingleesh Language (SNAIL)

Well hey, if the French can have their Academie Française, and the Spanish their Real Academia Española, then I think it's high time we English speakers had our own Academy too.

If you google 'English Academy' you get a bunch of language school home pages, so I reckon the coast is clear to set up my very own, my original, my totally official Sab's New Academy of the Ingleesh Language, or 'SNAIL' for short.

Based firmly on the original (and best, of course) missions of our Gallic and Hispanic cousins academies, SNAIL shall insist on the absolute minimum amount of change to the language from the days of, oh, let's say Shakespeare, for a start.

This train of thought was started when I read that the venerable Real Academia Española has just updated the 1931 version of its Nueva gramáticade la lengua española , the word nueva having become somewhat compromised in recent decades.

Some of the oh-so-grudgingly included 'exceptions' to the pure version include accepting that a handful of unenlightened individuals (mostly living in South America but increadingly found on the Iberian Peninsula itself) have completely dropped the polite or familiar plural form of you (vosotros) from both their daily speech and even their grammar books in favour of ustedes. Ouch!

A Caribbean pronunciation of amor (love) as amol is another example, as well as mentioning that some Latin American friends don't actually bother to invert the subject and the verb in questions such as "¿Qué quiere Luis?", prefering "¿Qué Luis quiere?" instead. You can almost hear the grinding teeth back at the old Academia, can't you?!

I have to make an admission. Having made fun of these poor old institutions, what they have done in producing the Nueva gramáticade la lengua española is actually a massive and hugely admirable step towards linguistic reality. Where the 1931 version basically told people how they should speak the Spanish language, the new one attempts to describe how people all over the world actually speak it. And there's the great difference, and what a marvellous difference it is too.

In my review of the excellent Cambridge Grammar of the English Language I praised CUP for doing exactly the same thing: describing instead of prescribing, and the approach is as refreshing as it is simply sensible.

And the teaching point in all this? Well simply to realise and remember that language is pretty much uncontrollable, and that we should revel in its changes and adaptations and enjoy sharing them with our students. And when they say they've heard a certain expression that we are not familiar with, be careful before saying it isn't 'proper' English. It may be that they are one step ahead of us!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre

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