Queen’s English Society throws in the towel

According to an article I found in The Guardian today, the Queen’s English Society (QES) has decided to close after 40 years of championing good English due to lack of interest.

The QES website states that:

The Society campaigns to encourage high standards of written and spoken English, which have been found to be lamentably low among school-leavers and even university graduates. One of its principal campaigns is for better and explicit English language education and regular constructive correction of errors in English language in schools. The Society arranges meetings, lectures and courses, promotes research, publishes members’ work and provides media comment.

One achievement of the QES was to help shape the spelling, punctuation and grammar elements of English in the national curriculum.

Are there similar organisations in other countries? I know that are language academies in some places, such as L’Académie française in French, but about in other countries?

Do any aspects of language usage bother you?

14 thoughts on “Queen’s English Society throws in the towel

  1. English can be a confusing language. One might wonder why it should be the lingua franca of international this and that and whatnots, when even its native speakers are still mired in confusion or ignorance over its proper usage.

  2. I think the whole idea of prescriptive grammar based on class prejudice in Britain is finally starting to lose momentum. Regional accents are heard on the BBC these days, and we’re just about stopped commenting on the fact. English has always been spoken with major variations between regions. There has *never* been one standard way of speaking English. “Proper” English was merely the English spoken by a narrow and privileged section of English society who sought to impose their values on the world through imperialism of various kinds. One wonders how many languages they killed along the way.

    Now that Empire is almost completely dead and forgotten, anachronistic, elitist organisations like the QES are rightly shutting up shop. Good riddance, and we can only hope that the rest of the grammar nazi’s quietly toddle off and die as well.

    At the close of the second Elizabethan era English is still a living language, with all that that implies.

    CL. There is no such thing as “proper” usage, just usage. English is a collective term for a series of largely mutually intelligible variants and dialects with Germanic grammar and mixed Germano-French vocabulary with many loan words, spoken widely around the world. It’s status as a lingua franca has a lot to do with the former British Empire, the UK-USA coalition winning WWII, and the US as post-war military-industrial superpower. It’s nothing much to do with the suitability of the language. None of us are ignorant of how to speak the language we speak, but not many of us come from the same class and region as the Queen.

  3. The only thing that bugs me is when people use the language incorrectly and insist that they are correct (like using affect when they should use effect or vice versa). For me I like how versatile English is. I can say something so many different ways — and I usually end up creating a new word out of two when I try to say something two different ways at the same time! (such as mixing up fantastic and fabulous and getting fantabulous)

  4. I’ve heard there’s a similar organization for Icelandic, but don’t know what it’s called. My understanding is its main concern is making sure Icelandic doesn’t get overwhelmed with loanwords. If something new comes along, then an official neologism has to be formed out of native roots.

  5. I’ve honestly never liked these sorts of organizations, the Académie française being the most well-known example: languages are living things that evolve and trying to dictate them is a terrible idea and never works: I don’t even speak French but even I know (primarily from reading Jennie’s blog) that no one pays attention to them, e.g. they oppose importing English loan words and make up French equivalents that no one uses and everyone thinks are silly, everyone just uses the English word anyway, words like “week end” (the way most people say “week end” in French is simply “le week end”) and “e-mail” (the French Academy came up with “courriel”, which nobody uses), etc.


  6. Of course there are organizations in other countries that regulate the use of language. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_language_regulators. The official regulator for Icelandic is the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. German and English apparently do not have an official language regulator, though it has been claimed that the Oxford Dictionary (in the case of English) and the Duden and the Council for German Orthography or Rat fuer deutsche Rechtschreibung (in the case of German) come close.

    As for aspects of language that bother me: I am a linguist, and I definitely tend towards descriptivism. But what DOES bother me is when the speakers of a language feel that their own language is somehow inferior to some other language, even if their own language is very widely spoken. (More specifically, my dad has pointed out several examples of things in Malayalam that most speakers seem to have forgotten by now. It’s hard for me to not share his disappointment about something like that).

  7. The pedant in me is critical of some English language usage. This of course is absurd as the purpose of language is communication, that implies an increasing curtailing of more lengthy usage and pronunciation. The proliferation of the glottal stop is a small example of the continuing process innit.

  8. It’s not completely true that no one uses “courriel”, but it’s rare. However, there is a genuine problem with “email” in French, as it’s an ordinary word meaning something else (enamel), and in its addition the rules of French spelling lead to a pronunciation very different from the English. For a while people were using “mél” in an attempt to represent the pronunciation, but I don’t remember seeing that recently.

  9. About courriel and week-end, what Andrew says maybe true in part, at least for usage in France and elsewhere in French-speaking Europe, but in Canada the situation is rather different. For as long as I can remember, going back to the early 1990s, the usual word for “email” here has been courriel, with people occasionally also saying un email, pronounced as in English. As for week-end, though I hear it more and more now, it seems to my ear to be a relatively recent migration into everyday speech of the formal “standard”: the usual term always used to be fin de semaine, the obvious term for what was a well-known cultural concept on this side of the Atlantic.

  10. While I find language regulators dodgy as a concept, groups like Coonceil ny Gaelgey can be useful to smaller languages by offering official translations for business and government, and helping to create technical and specialist vocabulary. The difference is that they support the language and its use, rather than trying to prescribe it.

  11. If I remember correctly, l’Académie française proposed “mèl.” not as a word, but as an abbreviation, to be used in front of an e-mail address (mèl. someone@example.com)… This wasn’t widely understood and “mèl” ended up as a synonym for e-mail.

    Clearly, some people do listen to l’Académie – but they still get it “wrong”.

    “courriel” originated independently from Quebec and crossed the Atlantic a few years back. It became much more popular than “mèl” and l’Académie eventually approved it:

  12. Recently in a video that I had made for an event, they mistakenly wrote “connaitre” in the credits instead of “connaître”. I jumped to Google to see if perchance the Académie had allowed this spelling. They had ! That’s what I triumphantly replied to a “nice” colleague who, inevitably, told that it was not acceptable to find mispellings in a corporate video. That made him silent ! 😉

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