Language referees

Language societies, councils and academies control most of the world’s languages. Does Google control the future of English?

Language Organization Formation Location
Italian Accademia della Crusca 1583 Florence
Danish Dansk Sprognævn 1955 Copenhagen
Spanish Real Academia Española 1713 Madrid
Russian Russian Academy 1783 St. Petersburg
Swedish Svenska Akademien 1786 Stockholm

While most Spanish-speakers live in North and South America, the Madrid-based Real Academia Española is the ultimate governing body for Spanish. Similarly, the Académie Française preserves the consistency of French across the world.

Associated Press guidelines

English does not have a grammar congress, but we do have the Associated Press (AP). The AP reaches nearly one-half of the world’s population each day, and the AP Stylebook is the default English reference for most journalists and corporate communications professionals.

There is no central authority that governs the internet. However, Google has emerged as a powerful force shaping the English language.

Google guidelines

In 2014, Google launched an office manual for its employees called “Material Design.” Codename “Quantum Paper,” the project sought to preserve style, layout, word choice and composition consistency across Google’s many platforms. 

The project has evolved. Today, Material Design serves as a reference standard for web developers.

Like the AP, Google encourages web developers to “focus on the user.” They emphasize clarity and minimalism. From mobile layouts and desktop navigation to color gradient contrasts, button sizing and empty space recommendations, Google provides guidance on a wide-range of issues.

Resource or unelected referee?

Google says its Material Design writing guidelines mirror AP standards. In many cases, they do not.

Numbers

  • AP: “In general, spell out numbers one through nine.”
  • Google: “Don’t spell out numbers. Use numerals ‘You have 3 messages’.”
  • AP: Spell out the word percentage. “1 percent.”

Contractions & Commas

  • AP: “Contractions reflect informal speech and writing. . . . Avoid excessive use of contractions.”
  • Google: “Use Contractions. Words to Avoid cannot, could not, do not.”
  • AP: “Do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.”
  • Google: “In a series of three or more items, use a comma before the final ‘and’.”

Words, Writing & Culture

  • AP: “The AP Stylebook lists 30 U.S. cities that do not need to be followed by the name of a state.”
  • Google: “Avoid culturally-specific idioms and expressions.”
  • AP: “[abbreviations]…such as NASA, FBI and CIA, can be used on all references.”
  • Google: “Use common words… Don’t use technical language.”

The future of English

Google discourages country-specific words, slang, colons after labels and the present perfect tense. In an effort to appease Google’s search algorithm, most SEO resources recommend short sentences, bullet points, headline-driven copy and State-of-the-Union speech vocabulary.

And with 3.5 billion Google searches and 500 million blog posts published each day, when Google speaks, people listen. Right-or-wrong, Google is reshaping the English language like any grammar Congress.