In 1712, the English language, according to the satirist Jonathan Swift, was in chaos. He outlined his complaints in this public letter to Robert Harley, leader of the government, proposing the appointment of experts to advise on English use. The model was to be based on that of the Académie Française, which had been regulating the French language since 1634. His proposal, like all the others he made, came to nothing. To this day no official regulation of the English language exists.
The aim of Swift's proposed academy is given on page 31 of A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Language: 'some Method should be thought of for ascertaining and fixing our Language for ever'. The section before suggests how this might be done, for example by rejecting 'very defective' grammatical forms and restoring some antiquated words 'on account of their Energy and Sound'.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- Rise of the novel, Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Satire and humour
Jonathan Swift initially did his best to conceal the fact that he was the author of Gulliver's Travels. John Mullan explores how Swift constructed the work to operate as an elaborate game, parodying travel literature, pretending to be an autobiography and containing obviously false facts presented by a deeply unreliable narrator.