As I understand, languages are mutable and shaped by their usage and the need for newer terms.

The definitions of single words and expressions aren't always clearly defined by dictionaries. There are different definitions for each term, some more vague than others and some embracing more meanings.

In my opinion there is the need to exist one official place that defines a language instead of different respected entities not only for common learning but also for legal purposes such as:

Absent some definition or example in the document itself, one must fall back on the “ordinary and plain meaning” of the term, which, as with all terms, is subject to interpretation and dispute.

My question is if there have been attempts of a country or such to officialize a language so that it leaves less doubt and controversy in legal cases of any meanings in for example written contracts.


2 Answers 2


Here is a list of language-regulating bodies. There is none for English, but they exist for Spanish (Real Academia Española), French (Académie française) and Swahil (Baraza la Kiswahili la Taifa for Tanzania, Chama cha Kiswahili cha Taifa for Kenya).

No language regulator addresses the issues which arise in the interaction between natural language and the needs of legal interpretation. Instead, these bodies generally strive to maintain the historical "purity" of the language. Rather than "define" a word like "sandwich", they decide whether to outlaw (or disparage) the word because it comes from English.

The vast majority of language-related problems in law which arise in common-law countries pertains to characteristics of common law and the practice of establishing precedent. There are philosophical conflicts, for example between those to adhere to the text versus those who try to discern original intent. If we had an official agency that precisely defined what a "weapon" is, we would still have the struggle over interpretive philosophies which renders moot any rulings from the national language regulator.

In the US, part of the problem of word-definition is the widespread practice of localized redefinition in statutes – the laws that say "In this subsection, 'weapon' has the meaning defined in 18 U.S. Code §920" (fictitious: §921 defines "firearm" undefined "weapon"). Tracking the scope of definition and range of variation of a word within a body of codified law is very difficult.

The rule in common law is that words that are not statutorily defined are given their "ordinary" meaning. There is no authoritative resource for "ordinary meaning" in English (there is no such thing as "the" dictionary). In the US, it would require a constitutional amendment to immutably impose a particular dictionary standard for deriving word meaning (e.g. Webster's Fourth New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, forthcoming) and there would be ensuing political protests. A legally precise definition of "repair" would be very difficult to understand, and would require hiring a lawyer in order to engage in the activity of "repairing broken windows", from a legally-safe perspective.

And that is just word meaning. Ambiguity in sentence-meaning cannot be resolved by listing the sentences.


I know European French is standardized by a society but this is more to prevent loan words (words that enter a language's lexicon from another language) than any attempt at actual definition standards. Chinese is also similarly standardized into simplified but this is again due to the complex writing system of the language more than any actual definition locking down.

Spoken languages are highly prone to local dialog splits that can often times incorporate native local languages, as well as neighboring languages into a vulgar (every day speaker's) vocabulary. English is probably the most prominent and well documented versions of the language as it's a Germanic language that is highly influenced by loan words (French and Celtic to a lesser extent) and the list of English accents is staggering in it's own native soil, to say nothing of the other major world speakers including 2 of the 3 most populous nations in the world, but this is common for other widely spoken languages too. American versions of European languages such as French (Quebec and Creole French), Spanish (Latin American), Portuguese (Brazilian Portuguese) and German (Pennsylvanian Dutch) are quite distinct from their European counterpart speakers to the point that many are almost unintelligible to speakers across the pond (while British and American English are often the example, both variants have highly developed and cross pollinated mass media and they aren't that hard for one to understand the other.). Quebec French is almost a second language to European French speakers, as is Latin American Spanish variants (and there are quirks to certain parts of Latin American Spanish as well that make speakers distinct in the Americas) and Pennsylvanian Dutch is so niche that it's speakers rarely have a common vocab with modern German.

Slang and popular turn of phrase are often times difficult to give a definition as they allude to things that are culturally relevant. If you watch the "Star Trek: Next Generation Episode" "Damok" this is the point of the language barrier between Picard and a new alien. These alien's language is easy for the computer to decipher, however many of their terms for things are steeped in the alien's own popular culture and lose any meaning to an outsider (The title comes from their phrase "Damok and Jallad at Tenagra" which is an allusion to a famous myth and it's use would be to denote two friends. The show explains this by supposing that the phrase "Juliet on the balcony" was a human equivelent... the show's audience would instantly understand that it might mean love, but if you don't speak English or are unfamiliar with Shakespeare, you'd be lost. I extend the metaphor further to say "Othello and Iago at Cyprus" which follows the Shakespeare motif, but asks you to recall a less popularly known work to understand the meaning of the phrase... or "The Lorax and the Oncler when the Truffla Trees Fell" or "Luke, when the two Suns Set" which are a more popularly known work but none the less points to a specific event to convey what is happening. Idiomatic expressions are staples of languages and can convey more meaning than the words that make them up define.

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