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Authorities in the Codification of the English Language

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Free «Authorities in the Codification of the English Language» Essay Sample

Languages are multidimensional systems that may be characterized by the existence of various forms to define and express a certain notion. Separate groups of people may use different forms based on their social, cultural, and political backgrounds. To prevent such variations, the process of standardization is involved. The goal of standardization is to establish a standard language where one variant of a language item is written and pronounced by all language users. Therefore, the question of standardization is important as it affects the language and its users, and has long and lasting consequences. It should be noted that standardization requires the authorities to codify a language. The paper discusses whether authorities have a great influence on language and how they use power to implement different language norms in regard to certain criteria. Such an approach to language is a matter of interest of different scientists who attempt to structure and describe standardization. The focus is placed on the Haugen’s model in order to discuss procedures and criteria involved in standardization. The model is broad enough to incorporate highly varied standardization procedures. To understand a process of standardization, its effects, and the role of authorities, specific criteria need to be analyzed on the basis of the model within a theoretical framework.

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The Question of Standardization in the English Language

Languages are dynamic systems of knowledge that incorporate various factors related to rules and norms. In social and historical contexts of language development, a certain degree of variability inevitably occurs. To avoid variations and ensure efficient communication, standardization is implemented. Thus, the main purpose of standardization is to achieve the “minimal variation in form” and “maximal variation in function” (Haugen, 1966, p. 931). Standardization is also viewed as a way to provide a “pure” language that has one spelling system, one pronunciation, and one meaning for a word that may be used within one grammatical framework (Haugen, 1966). Therefore, standardization reduces misunderstandings and differences in language and provides identical codes for language users.

It should be noted that standardization is a multidimensional process. The process involves different levels and structures that include lexicon, phonology, and grammar (Haugen, 1966). In terms of grammar, there are certainty and consistency that are explored by grammarians in their definitions. Grammarians focus on “a doctrine of correctness” that may be generally implied (Mitchel, 2017). In this context, correctness is based on customs and rules (Mitchel, 2017). These notions involve controversial issues that find their particularization in lexical definitions.

Scientists argue that among language levels, lexical standardization is one of the most important elements. One of the main reasons is that lexical items have a “higher degree of variations when compared to other linguistic features” (Meenakshisundaram, 1990, p. 146). This phenomenon appears due to the need to create new lexical items in the process of social development (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). It should be emphasized that lexical elements are often modified in the course of time, especially when new objects have to be defined. Thus, the patterns of social life change lexical items and help language to adapt. As a result, the meaning of some words may be expanded while other meanings may be forgotten and lost. This dynamic is reflected in lexical standardization, which is a matter of interest of the paper.

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There are several aspects that can be considered in terms of lexical standardization. According to Weinreich and other scholars, function, form, and content are the basis of standardization (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). These aspects are correlated with the notions of rationality, efficiency, commonalty, norm, flexible stability, and others that have been taken under consideration by scientists since the seventeenth century (Meenakshisundaram, 1990; Haugen, 1966). Regarding these elements of standardization, the question of authorities arises. The matter is based on the fact that a standard language has “a body of users” who are responsible for accepting norms and implementing other important criteria into a language standardization process (Haugen, 1966, p. 933). Usually, small groups have influence on standardization and the needed authority to implement changes.

Authorities in the English Language

The question of authority is one of the key notions that constitute a standardization process. The case of the English language differs from situations with other languages. The main aspect that differentiates the authorities of the English language is its regulatory body. As a rule, various academies serve as regulators and produce guidelines for language users. One of the most known institutions is the French Academy (Crystal, 1999). Spain has the Real Academia Española that has a well-recognized status and prestige among Spanish-speaking countries (Crystal, 1999). A similar situation is in Sweden, Hungary, and other countries. As a matter of fact, the academies have been regulating languages since the sixteenth century, when a standardization process started (Crystal, 1999). However, English-speaking nations have never had an academy (with an exception of a body in South Africa), and the control was established by individuals and their publications.

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In the eighteenth century, grammarians had influence and authority. It may be argued that one of the most profound works belongs to Johnson, who emphasized the need for a standard language and published numerous works. Webster has also contributed to the development of a standard grammar. However, more dictionaries were published and an emphasis shifted from grammar to lexicon. Lexicographers (for example, Dyche and Pardon) took responsibility for standardization of the English language (Mitchel, 2017). They managed to incorporate grammar into dictionaries and used it to add clarity to the published works. Additionally, the authority of lexicographers was reinforced by high expectations. For instance, in the Preface to his dictionary, Entick says that the readers would find guidelines regarding the ways the English language has to be written and pronounced there (Mitchel, 2017). It should be noted that dictionaries were expected to illustrate standards and adhere to the rules of language usage in various social situations (Mitchel, 2017). These social situations were used as advantages by lexicographers who based their works on empirical data and historical background in an effort to illustrate linguistic changes.

Dictionaries help to identify usage errors and show preferred patterns. For example, in a pocket dictionary that was published in 1765, the readers could find information related to correct and incorrect word order (Mitchel, 2017). According to the dictionary, the “I had the same thought as you” is described as a structural mistake and another sentence is suggested, such as “I had the same thought that you had” as a preferred variant (Mitchel, 2017, p. 8). Thus, dictionaries were designed to present lexical materials and explain how to use it correctly. As a result, lexicographers started to be regarded as “the guardians of language” (Mitchel, 2017). The process of standardization is based on authority of lexicographers. Lexicographers established their authority and continue to hold it. However, it should be pointed out that lexicographers deduce the meaning of words and their originals on the basis of the works of writers. In this context, Shakespeare, Pope, Dickens, and others are used as examples.

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There is a number of available works that have the authority in the present. Apart from the dictionary of Johnson that illustrates various situations related to the usage of the English language, scholars recognize the Oxford English Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary of English, Longman dictionaries, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, and others. It should be stressed that some of these works may be accessed online. This feature simplifies the matter of standardization and allows language users to get themselves acquainted with the accepted norms. Furthermore, these norms are applied within a specific theoretical framework that describes the criteria of the language standardization process.

Standardization Criteria within a Theoretical Framework

There is a number of approaches that are used to establish criteria of standardization. The focus is placed on the works of Haugen who developed a universal model. The model consists of 4 elements (selection, codification, implementation, and elaboration) that constitute language regulation and standardization (Haugen, 1996). The model presents the criteria of language standardization that Haugen describes as procedures. It should be noted that this theoretical framework is based on the groundwork of Ray who explained the criteria (Byron, 1976). Haugen’s model, however, is a structurally clear and applicable theoretical framework.

The model is often used by scholars who analyze one or more of Haugen’s criteria in an effort to describe standardization. For instance, Cooper uses Haugen’s model as a template for his scheme that is devoted to a decision making process in a language (Hüning, Vogl, & Moliner, 2012). Moreover, Haarmann structures his “prestige planning” on the basis of a Haugen’s framework (Hüning, Vogl, & Moliner, 2012). Kaplan’s and Balduar Jr.’s theory of “internationalization” is an elaboration of the Haugen’s model (Hüning, Vogl, & Moliner, 2012). These examples stress the importance and influence of Haugen’s ideas. It should also be noted that the work is detailed enough to be used as a frame of reference for an analysis of varied standardization cases.

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To eliminate structural variations in a language, the authorities conform to the accepted criteria that state the process of standardization. According to the Haugen’s model, the criteria may be used to select, codify, implement, and elaborate the language items. The process of selection is based on the need to choose the most suited variant of a language item from the existing variety (Georgieva, 2014). To achieve this purpose, political and social context are evaluated. As a result, “the chosen variety necessarily gains prestige” under the influence of authorities (Georgieva, 2014, p. 77). Other variants are considered to be inappropriate forms — for example, they may be associated with the lack of education. Therefore, a process of selection is a matter of importance.

To select language items, Haugen suggests applying three criteria. These criteria are known as efficiency, adequacy, and acceptability (Byron, 1976). It was mentioned above that Haugen developed his model on the basis of Ray’s ideas. Ray explained that the evaluation for selection includes efficiency, rationality, and commonalty (Byron, 1976). According to Ray and Haugen, “efficiency has to do with the relative ease with which the form is learned or used” (Byron, 1976, p. 21). The notion of adequacy overlaps with Rya’s rationality, and commonality corresponds to accessibility (Byron, 1976). Thus, the selected language forms are expected to be easy to understand, rational in their usage, and accessible. In conformity with these criteria, a process of codification is performed.

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The results of codification may be seen in the creation of a normative linguistic codex. This codex is an explicit norm that applies to works on grammar, spelling manuals, dictionaries, and other language guides (Deumert & Vandenbussche, 2003). The reference works conclude the codification process and make it necessary for a language speaker to use the correct forms and “not to use in writing any ‘incorrect’ forms which he may have in his native variety” (Georgieva, 2014, p. 77). Thus, codification is an example of linguistic behavior (Georgieva, 2014). In case of Standard English, the norms are developed to help those who use dialects of English. According to Trudgill, Standard English is “the variety of English which is usually used in print, and which is normally taught in schools and to non-native speakers learning the language” (Georgieva, 2014, p. 77). It is worth mentioning that the notion of a standard and non-standard language is not related to a formal or colloquial language (Georgieva, 2014). Standard English includes formal and informal forms as well as “bad language”, but attempts to reduce diversity of these forms (Georgieva, 2014). Thus, standardization includes different language aspects.

In this context, a question about the effect of standardization on languages is often discussed. It is stated that diversity is a natural aspect of a language. Therefore, standardization “imposes a strain on languages” (Georgieva, 2014, p. 77). This strain may deprive a language of its features. However, the authorities responsible for standardization focus on the idea of a “pure” language that helps speaker avoid misunderstandings. Regarding this discussion, it is evident that language norms are not always accepted and may be resisted. Therefore, codification is a long process that performs several functions. One of the main functions of codification is to unify users that belong to a language community and separate them from other communities. Additionally, codification shapes social, ethnic, regional, and religious identities in terms of a language (Georgieva, 2014). Moreover, language users who employ norms gain more prestige in comparison to those who refuse to accept these norms.

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Criteria that are used to select language items are also applied with the aim to codify a language. According to Haugen, efficiency, adequacy, and acceptability may be used to assess whether a language is a standard one (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). These criteria are similar to principals that are developed by other scholars — for example, by Hay (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). In this context, Hay and Haugen describe procedures and approaches that are followed during the process of codification. The scientists describe a comparative approach, an archaizing procedure, and a statistical procedure (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). A comparative approach is used for designing a hypothetical mother tongue that may be connected to dialects of a language. An archaizing procedure is focused on a selection of forms that were used in the past, correspond to the earliest meaning of language items, and are preserved in literature (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). A statistical procedure “assumes the involvement of an act of deliberation” (Meenakshisundaram, 1990, p. 148). Therefore, codification is based on a set of language-related aspects and is performed to present import attributes of a language.

Some scholars point out the other criteria in the process of codification. For example, Tauli describes criteria that should be applied during codification (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). These criteria include language clarity, economy, and beauty (Meenakshisundaram, 1990). It should be noted that Haugen does not explore the notion of beauty in his works. It may be assumed that since the purpose of standardization is a “pure” language, then it is beautiful by definition.

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The principles of efficiency, adequacy, and acceptability apply to the implementation procedure. This stage is related to sociopolitical context and is responsible for acceptance of the provided norms and standards. Some scholars — for example, Deumert and Vandenbussche, (2003), describe implementation as the “Achilles heel” of standardization. This comparison is established the idea that linguistic decisions are sometimes rejected by language users. In case of acceptance, such factors are discussed as rational decision making and social influence. Rational decision making involves the influence of authorities that may sometimes adopt the norms that help to achieve certain benefits — for instance, power and status (Deumert & Vandenbussche, 2003). While providing norms, authorities have access to social networks (courts, political meetings, and others) that exercise influence and control (Deumert & Vandenbussche, 2003). If successfully implemented, the norms become a standard that gives benefits to the authorities.

Haugen also connects standardization to elaboration that shifts language patterns. Elaboration is also compared to language modernization. According to Deumert and Vandenbussche (2003), this aspect of standardization provides authorities with opportunities of extending the existing standards in order to include the standard variety and add new functions. The procedure is related to grammatical, terminological, stylistic, and orthographic development of a standard language (Deumert & Vandenbussche, 2003). As a matter of fact, elaboration includes aspects of a social and political life, as well as technological progress. Elaboration occurs under the influence of social changes that find their particularization in, for example, new text genres. It should be noted that literature has an unlimited potential to store and distribute the lexicon that reflects social realities. Thus, writing has “no limits to the elaboration of language except those set by the ingenuity of man” (Haugen, 1966, p. 932). Writing also incorporates the main criteria that are used to standardize a language since texts are often effective, adequate, and acceptable.

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These criteria made Haugen’s model concise, and this feature has contributed to the authority of the model. Nevertheless, some scientists point out the model flaws. Even Haugen stated that his theoretical framework does not cover all standardization processes and is not exhaustive enough (Deumert & Vandenbussche, 2003). Haugen mentions that standardization may be associated with non-linguistic goals. However, the model overlooks this aspect.

Some scholars often question the criteria of standardization. Furthermore, Bell developed criteria to assess the level of prestige “in which a code is held can be measured” (Georgieva, 2014, p. 77). According to Bell, dictionaries and grammar manuals have to be based on the best literature pieces that the language provides. Another criterion is a viability of a language and the size of a community of speakers. Additionally, there is a need to evaluate historicity and determine whether “speakers have a sense of longevity of their code” (Georgieva, 2014, p. 77). Bell also draws attention to autonomy (the difference between various codes), reduction (the amount of social functions in the code), and mixture (the “purity” of a language) (Georgieva, 2014). It may be suggested that Standard English meets all the criteria. Thus, the authorities have accomplished a successful process of standardization that still continues in order to help language users adapt to advance technological and social changes.


Standardization is an integral part of a language development process because it is designed to provide identical codes for language users. These codes are applied to phonetic, lexical, and stylistic levels of a language. However, scientists argue that among these language levels, lexical standardization is one of the most important aspects to consider. Therefore, a special attention is placed on a regulation of the lexicon. It should be noted that regulation is imposed by language authorities. The case of English-speaking nations differs from other language communities that have academies as regulatory institutions. Standard English is a result of the activities of separate individuals who contributed to standardization. Their efforts may be evaluated by analyzing a normative linguistic codex that applies to works on grammar, spelling manuals, dictionaries, and other language guides. Thus, the individuals have great authority and power that allow them to affect language.

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