Some time ago, a 13-year-old girl handed in an essay written in texting shorthand saying it was easier than standard English. She wrote: “My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc."
Translated, it meant: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place.”
The girl's English teacher was horrified. She told BBC News: “I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not translate.”
British purists have now taken up cudgels against what they perceive to be the butchering of their mother tongue. And so, an Academy of English is being formed by the Queen's English Society (QES), to protect the language from impurities and the “heiroglyphics” of the text-speak generation, to quote the venerable English teacher.
The Society members now hope to get an official recognition for the Academy, even a Royal Charter, for an undaunted exercise to clean up the mother language.
The Society's charter says: “The 21st century is a bit late to start one...but precisely because our language is so widespread - and also because there has been a dreadful devaluation and deterioration of education in our hectic, modern, digitalised world - we do desperately need some form of moderating body to set an accepted standard of good English.”
It is run along the lines of similar bodies in Europe trying to protect their national languages. France has L'Académie Française, Spain the Real Academia Española, and Italy the Accademia della Crusca.
Martin Estinel, who founded the academy, said he hoped it would earn the eminence of its continental equivalents. A retired translator and interpreter, Estinel told The Times: “At the moment, anything goes. Let's set down a clear standard of what is good, correct, proper English. Let's have a body to sit in judgment.”
The academy already has a website (queens-english-society.com) that provides access to dictionaries, grammar, comparisons between British and US English, and a link for other English-speaking communities. It also includes a section on the “tragic failure of the British education system to meet the needs of our children”.
Estinel pointed out that he still used the word 'gay' to mean 'happy', though he was aware of the word's new definition in the English dictionary. The misuse of the apostrophe is the single biggest crime against the language, he believes, while he cannot forgive the common tendency to make liberal use of the word 'like' to break up sentences, the confusion of 'last' and 'past', and the dropping of the conditional (“if I was you”, instead of “if I were you”).
However, the academy has its critics who question its objectives. One such is the Spelling Society, which calls for improving literacy standards in Britain, including spelling reform. Its chairman Jack Bovill said while it was true that “23 percent of children emerge from school as functionally illiterate”, the proposed Academy of English runs the risk of becoming redundant if it refuses to adapt to modern changes and clings to the English of old.
He said: “The creation of an academy will probably run the same risk as the French equivalent, whose authorities realised that French could die out if it didn't adapt. The Académie Française recently published 6,000 variant spellings. Language has to adapt to survive. The question is, do you do it deliberately or leave it to chance? While the QES may value what is around today, does it value what was around 100 years ago? It is very well meaning but caught in a bind."