Academie Francaise was established in 1635 to be the official authority on the French Language. Even though the organization is nearly four hundred years old, it is still active and exerts quite an influence in France. When you hear the news stories about the French McDonald’s not being allowed to list "Big Mac" on the menu, that is the Academie Francaise at work.
I mention this because sometimes I wish we had an Academy of American English. In my dream, the AAE (Academy of American English) would be different from the AF (Academie Francaise) in three major ways. First, the AAE would NOT try to prevent the infiltration of words and phrases from other languages. Sometimes other languages have a way of expressing an idea that is just right, while English misses the mark. "Je ne sais quoi" is an example of that. Literally translated, it means "I don’t know what" while an English dictionary defines it as "a certain intangible quality." I think "je ne sais quoi" expresses the idea much better than "a certain intangible quality."
Second, the AAE would not try to quash regional variations of the language the way the AF has, but would support and encourage them. As John Steinbeck predicted in "Travels with Charley" back in 1960, regional accents and dialects in America are slowly dying. I realize that many of us use accents as yet another way to judge or stereotype our fellow man, and that is unfortunate. I know many people from the Midwest who hear any hint of a Southern accent as being ignorant. I know even more Southerners who think anyone with any type of Midwestern or Northeastern accent is rude and pushy. Still, I would like to see the accents and regional words and phrases preserved and even glorified. The language is infinitely more colorful and expressive with all that regional differences add.
Third, the AAE would have the muscle to enforce proper language usage in print and media. The AF has an advisory role in France, but my fantasy AAE can go out and slap some hands over misuse and abuse of the language. I know many people like to blame the internet and text messages for the degradation of writing and speaking skills, but I can say with some authority the problem started long before that. I was teaching at a public university before the internet became widely used and before text messages even existed. Nearly every written assignment submitted by my freshman and sophomore students more closely resembled a letter to a friend than a scholarly effort. They were riddled with "cause" instead of because, "should of" and "could of" instead of should have and could have, and even "ums" and "likes" (as in "The reason I am writing this paper is, um, like, cause you assigned it!")! My students were sure I had missed my calling as an English teacher. Maybe that is true, because the misspellings, punctuation errors, and grammatical errors I see in print, on television, and on the internet every day put a knife through my language-loving heart. Casual, everyday conversation should be exempt from these rules, but people who are being paid to speak should be able to use the language correctly. For example, I LOVE the word "ain’t"—it just has a certain negative je ne sais quoi—but a professional newscaster ain’t got no business saying things like that!
The Academy of American English will likely never come to fruition. I would think it would become bogged down in trying to define what is correct and what should be punished. Furthermore, the job of regulating the language is just too enormous considering that anyone with internet access can self-publish nowadays. So the job falls to each of us individually. I ask to you to have pride in yourself and have mercy on the poor language nerds—watch what you say and, especially, watch what you write!! SpringCreekArtsGuild@gmail.com.