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The English Language Doesn't Have OFFICIAL Rules

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/24/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 531 times Debate No: 91736
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
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The English language does not, nor can have, official rules. This is because the English language is a commonly agreed upon way of speaking that evolved over time and still evolves. Some might say that Oxford, or some other authority has the authority to determine the language's rules, and while these are generally accepted from an academic standpoint, the English language is a template upon which we build our own, personal interpretation. If Oxford had invented the language, they would have authority to change it, but because English is the product of gradual change, it is defined purely by its speaker and, generally, by its effectiveness at communicating with other "English-Speakers" and defining the way other people understand the language. If it is perceived as English, expressions are integrated into it by those that find them useful to communicate with. While a formal English is largely accepted by the community, it is not adhered to by English speakers entirely, and many that identify as "English-Speakers" might/do disagree with some opinions on it (Think the "Oxford Comma", and how there are two sides to that debate).

This is an inconsequential subject, to me at least, but I am giving and debating my real opinion, so please be serious, somewhat, and let's actually have a conversation about this. Formality is not as important as communicating our views with each other. Thanks.


Thank you for your point.

Like everything in life, English in fact can have and does have its official rules. In music, it is called musical theory, in maths, there are certain formulae and in English or any other language, it is simply known as 'grammar'.

Of course, I totally agree that the English language "is a template upon which we build our own personal interpretation" like you said but it needs to be grammatically correct and the text therefore has to follow official rules for example a dictionary or "Oxford", so that it can be understood by readers to interpret one's art. Or if not, then it would no longer be considered as a "template". Yes the language does evolve and develop but so does a country's law. So judging by your theory, are you saying that we shouldn't obey the law or take it seriously because it will always change and develop? For example, at one point, people believed vehemently that homosexual marriage was unspeakable and so did the law. That is an example of improvement but does not indicate that all our previous laws must be wrong.

Also, you stated that some may believe that "Oxford has the authority to change the English language". Well let me ask you a question, when has Oxford decided to randomly change the rules of English grammar for their own amusement without a reasonable factor to support their choice? Or when has the government of a modern country decided to create random laws without support, popularity of the people or even a referendum?

In conclusion, what I am really trying to say is that of course there are "official" rules in English even though rules will always naturally change and improve. But are the present official rules of the English language or even an official set of rules for a language (ie. grammar) really that difficult to understand that they should be completely denied?

Thank you and I beg you to propose.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for your respect and cordiality.

I would like to make something clear right now that I failed to do so earlier, which is to say that I am in no way saying that we shouldn't respect the rules of grammar (in general at least); rather, I try to educate others on the proper use of such grammar if I find they have made a mistake of a grammatically serious nature, although I also try not to be patronizing, especially as, like I said before, I am convinced that there are no "official rules".

Let me explain by addressing your examples. I am not too familiar with music theory, so I can't speak to that, but I would agree that math has official rules. Math is generally accepted as a system that works with itself, and even though some aspects of it might not fit perfectly into the real world, the CONCEPT (please forgive my all caps; I'm doing this from my phone and can't italicize) of math is that of the system, and that it works by itself. I'm not going to start the "did we invent math or discover it" but the point is that math has to make sense with itself, by definition. However, what about sciences? In science there generally are no RULES. There are widely accepted theories, but they can be disproved and remade (I suppose mentioning the fact that Euclid wasn't completely right about geometry with his maxims relates math to science in this case, though). There are laws of nature that govern the world, but those laws are not science itself. Science is the study and growth of understanding of those laws. That is how I would describe the "English language", because it was not artificially created.

We must ask ourselves about what is the CONCEPT of the English language. This is important for both understanding my points and being able to properly debate, as keeping different opinions on what the concept of the English language is leads to not actually debating about the same topic. For rules to be "official", they must be directly related to the concept. The concept of math is of a system that works with itself (in general, although you could make arguments based on the Euclid situation that I mentioned before). A board game might have a set of "official" rules, because the board games concept, the definition in our minds of the board game, is directly linked to those rules. The rules help define what the board game is, much like math's rules. You talked about how a government's laws can change, and how there are official laws. I agree, however, do you consider the government definable by its laws at any given moment? If we broke down the American constitution and laws, present at this time, wouldn't that be the definition of the government we have today? It depends on your concept of what the government is, and it's the same for the English language. What's your definition of the English language? You said that Oxford didn't change the language irresponsibly, and I agree, but do they, theoretically, have the right? Because this is somewhat of a theoretical argument. IF Oxford did, let's say, declare that the English language follow the grammar and rules of French, would it be true? Would that be the English language? I think not, but if Oxford's or other dictionaries' rules aren't official enough to be heeded in that situation... Are they "official" rules? If the answer is, to you, that the language WOULD count as changed, then we might have a problem, as our concepts of the English language are drastically opposed. However, if, as I suspect, you would say that of course it WOULDN'T, then I would ask you this: Is Oxford right because it's right in and of itself? Or is it right because it fits the definitions and grammar you already accept? If Oxford was right in and of itself, or along with other dictionaries (assuming they don't disagree, which poses an entirely new theoretical problem), then the CONCEPT of the English language would have to be directly affiliated with Oxford and the other dictionaries. They define what the English language is. So, if that were so, then what were the English speaking before Oxford took responsibility for the language? And, should they, entirely theoretically, change the language and we didn't change ours... What would we be speaking? I propose that the English language, as before, evolves in and of itself, as people find new ways of expressing themselves through it. However, the grammatical rules that we follow are attempts to stabilize the evolution by observing the language and defining it, like you would in a science. If, let's say, the language was artificially created by one person, then it probably would have official rules, as the concept would be of the language that the person created, which would be based on his definitions. However, the English language was never created, so it doesn't really have a definition such as this (any definition would probably be outdated, and compare more closely with the languages it stemmed from, and no one nowadays would probably speak it. But I don't use that concept, and, clearly, neither do you).

While I don't agree with all scientific theories, I still support teaching the majority or all of the commonly accepted ones (of not as fact, as theories). I still agree that gravity exists, even though it is just a theory. And so, I think we SHOULD continue teaching what you would consider to be "proper English", as it is a very good definition and helps keep the language in shape. But I think we should come up with new and better theories. Didn't Shakespeare invent many words? Don't dialects exist? Don't we understand each other when using "words" like "ain't"? While I explain grammar when I feel I should (although I probably make many mistakes, as I'm no English major; I'm not out of high school), I keep in mind that they aren't hard, fast rules. They are theoretical, and CAN be changed. If we keep this in mind, I think that it would be a lot easier to have more people who, like William Shakespeare, made a difference in their language in order to improve it, expand on it, and add to its art and depth. I also believe that we have very similar concepts of the language, and I hope we do, because concepts must be the same in any given debate, so that we debate on the same topic.

I eagerly await your rebuttal, if you remain unconvinced. Have a lovely day!


Thank you Pro for your point.

Firstly, you mentioned the word "official" quite a lot in your argument and of course, it is the key word in the motion after all. But what really does the word "official" even mean? The word "official" refers to something "authorised by a public body"[1]. So let's take a country's law for example. I'm no lawyer or professional so forgive me if my statements are slightly vague but I'm sure you will understand the general meaning. The law states that it is illegal to drive under the age of 17 (or somewhere between 15-18 depending on your country) for safety reasons, but is there any law that states it is illegal to for example drive over the age of 95? Not really, but does the average 95 year old drive (with all due respect)? I didn't think so either and if a 95 year old had been driving, the case or matter would certainly be investigated immediately by a high authority.

So if something so authorised like a state's law does not contain EVERY single little detail about the rules despite the title that they are undoubtedly "official", then I'm sure it is quite understandable that although the English language has official rules too, not every single word or sentence that we use requires a written down version of that rule in order to be accepted as official.

You might also think, "But Shakespeare decided to create words for his own pleasure, so does that make the evolution of the English language unofficial?" The answer is a definite no. I could probably create some new words right now but chances of them being used by everyone and being accepted into the top dictionaries? Very slim. Just like law again, rules need to be approved of by a group of people, whether by state or referendum in order for it to be established properly.

Secondly, I totally agree with you- "[English] CAN be changed" but so can any rule or law once it is reasonable or agreed upon. I would just like to reiterate what I explained in the first round: Not all rules and laws are 100% correct or will ever be 100% correct. But just because it will always change and improve, it doesn't make it any less "official". Unless you think that a state's law has suddenly become unofficial simply because an amendment had occurred (which I do not believe is what you hold an opinion on).

Finally, the word "ain't" and other words do actually exist in many renowned and prestigious dictionaries [1] [2], so I do not see how that point of yours was valid in any way. Also, because English evolves constantly like you mentioned earlier, I do not think that it can be compared in depth to something like maths, that is so black and white. As you've said so yourself, English is an "art" which I absolutely agree with and is why I have chosen to compare it with the law, something that teaches the behaviour of humans/our human nature rather than something straight forward.

English certainly has official rules just like everything else but that does not take from its depth, art or beauty.

Thank you and I beg you to propose. (Also, I did have a lovely day, thank you.)

Vote Con.

-Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus in Colour (my own copy) [1]
- [2]
Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for your arguments.

I will admit that that is not quite what I thought official meant (or, not how I used it). This is an example of why we should have commonly followed rules... However, I maintain that they are not official. By the definition of official, it is still not very different. Official rules must be approved by a public body, yes, but they must have authority to approve it. One of my main points is that no one has that authority (I hope that I made that clear previously). I am not aware of the time at which Oxford was founded, but it doesn't really matter, because I'm pretty certain that they didn't invent the English language with a bunch of other dictionaries. So, if English must be approved by a proper authority, then did it not exist until Oxford and other dictionaries started moderating it? English has been around for a long time, so how can Oxford have the authority to define its rules? Society accepts their authority, which is good, for the sake of maintaining communication, but if a stubborn person declared that they could ignore Oxford and speak what they considered to be the TRUE English language... Can we actually prove them wrong? Like I said before, Oxford is not making up rules, but rather fitting them to best fit what they observe from the English language. But how can those observations be official rules, if the language clearly is observable without their help. If Oxford suddenly gave up on the language, do you think it would still exist? Or, if they pulled rules out of thin air, wouldn't people lose trust in Oxford and give up on it? How is it that in this theoretical situation Oxford's rules are only considered official if people generally agree with them anyway? This does not sound to me like these rules are official, or, as I somewhat meant in my original post, unarguable.

You compare "official" rules to laws a lot, and, though I find flaws with that analogy, i will do my best to address them and the analogy. Laws are unarguable, for the most part. When we think of American law, we think of the law made by the American government. The government, therefore, has the authority to define official rules. But, when you think of the English language, is Oxford the source of the language you imagine? You seem to agree that Oxford doesn't make the English language, but, if the English language has official rules, mustn't it have been created by those that make the rules? The government gives specific instructions for giving others the authority to change it. Besides that, i can't think of rules that were made by people that didn't have part in the creation of the system that the rules define, that were official. A dictator s seizing power would really be establishing a new administration, not redefining an old one.

Change doesn't keep something from being official. Change without authority defining the change somewhat does. Using your driving example, if police suddenly started pulling over excessively elderly drivers, without a new law, is the execution of the law changed? Yes. But, is the official "law" changed? No. When Shakespeare made new words, his words would have to be semi-commonly used before Oxford would about accept them. Were they official words? By your definition, no. But what if they were more widely used than an "official" word? If the English language we speak doesn't match what might be considered "official", then what language are we speaking?

Hmm, I didn't know "ain't" was accepted by Oxford... Kind of nice, but not really that relevant. My apologies for that mistake.

Actually, if you look at my post again, I was CONTRASTING math and English because of the reasons you mentioned: Math is pretty straightforward (although, by the definition of official, i suppose math's rules aren't official... We don't NEED a committee to define them). If anyone was comparing them, you were in the first post (although not in depth, of the two of us you were the one technically comparing them; the reason I mentioned math was to address your point). That is why I compared English more closely to science, which, unlike math, is not sold, but rather is a collection of theories that are generally accepted by the scientific community and others, and that are constantly being refined and updated. Granted, the laws of nature that they attempt to define are (most likely) unchanging and unobjective. But even these are not "official", because no public authority is defining them, other than theories intended to understand their rules. Really, a theme seems to exist that things which were not just "created" tend to have no official rules. Because no one went and said "I'll invent a language that I will call English), English's growth has been more natural than artificial... People saying what works to communicate and language traditions bring formed from that. Thus, if we attempt to artificially impose rules, and insist that they are official, is it really the same language? Is this creation yeast really English?

Everything, clearly, does NOT have official rules, however, this point is of little relevance to the true argument. I would also like to point out that, while law can be more fluid, you cannot have the law without official rules. However, English, very clearly, HAS existed without "official rules". Because of this, there is a great deal of difference between what you are comparing, and it would help if you could try using another example as well, rather than one where official rules are naturally part of the system, raster than being artificially produced. In those situations, adding rules requires changing the system itself. If English has official rules that didn't always exist, it must be considered a new language, one that is based on artificial concepts, that doesn't require the feature to already be present in natural language, and that I have no business speaking. The language wasn't artificially created with "official rules" in mind, so they cannot be added. And, if this were the case, then what are most people speaking? Can you correct someone based off of a language they do not speak, whose system was created after that of their own? I do not think that this is how the condition of the English language is. Like I said, Oxford only has the power that you give it. So, how does that count as authority that it isn't ours to bestow, whose rights were held by people long past, who didn't care about a need for official over unofficial rules

I believe that this is my last chance to speak in this debate, and there is more that I could say. However, I think the question that is really important is "what IS the English language, and what must it be in order for it to have official rules"? Are they the same answer? I hope that everyone reading, including my opponent, have been able to change and refine their views and opinions. I have, to an extent, refined my understanding. After all, isn't that why we debate? To make a difference? I thank you for your find reading that farewell/conclusion that strayed from the topic, and I hope you ponder the arguments before you vote. I now, finally, turn the stage over to my well-spoken opponent. Good day and good bye,


Thank you Pro.

I'm going to go straight in with my rebut.

1. Firstly, you stated that:

"The English language does not, nor can have official rules. This is because the English language is a commonly agreed upon way of speaking that evolved over time and still evolves."

What you clearly just said was that 'something cannot have official rules because they may improve/change'. I have used a country's law as a good comparison throughout the debate and I will do so again. Is a country's law considered unofficial (based on what YOU stated) simply because it is always changing, mostly for the better?

2. You said:

"If Oxford had invented the language, they would have the authority to change it."

I completely disagree with this statement. Alexander Graham Bell, as we all know, invented the telephone as an advanced method of communication. Then, inspired by this, Martin Cooper invented the first portable phone as an improvement to the telephone. IBM and BellSouth developed the first smart phone and so on. But based on your theory, should nobody have improved or developed the telephone just because they didn't invent it in the first place? I didn't think so either.

Also, I would just like to reiterate that Oxford does not randomly invent words for their own fun, but only adds words to their dictionary once new words have evolved themselves and have been approved of by the majority (for example, the word "ain't"!).

3. According to your argument, English was not invented by a certain individual "because no one went and said, "I'll invent a language that I will call English"."

I totally agree with you! English was not invented but developed and evolved over time to become a language, an advance form of how we communicate with each other through speech and text. Laws and moral codes are the exact same however. They were never really "invented" but were written down and agreed upon by humans in order to keep the peace among ourselves, thus making it OFFICIAL- which is what we're debating about. We did not invent rules, the English language or even science for that matter. Instead, they are all things that the majority have decided to accept, making it official. Law is official till it is questioned, changed, then re-made official. Oxford may not have "invented" English but they certainly keep a record of the language's official rules. That is something nobody can deny.

I hope we can all agree now that the English language DOES have its official rules- or else the voters of this debate would not be able to determine who "has better spelling and punctuation" when voting!

Thank you for reading.

Vote Con.

[Also, it has truly been a pleasure debating with you. It was a very interesting debate (all the arguments along with the motion itself). I believe that the most important thing about debating is not necessarily to debate your own opinion, but to use it as a chance to look at things from a different point of view or even as a challenge. So thank you for such an interesting experience!]
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by Owlblocks 2 years ago
I think you can count on me to be slightly less picky with language as long as the meaning is clear :)
Posted by missmozart 2 years ago
I meant to say "rebuttal" instead of "rebut" in the final round.
Posted by lord_megatron 2 years ago
I agree. Ain't is a word and no official can say otherwise
Posted by Owlblocks 2 years ago
By official I mean is there a "right way" to communicate in English that has proper authority to its name. In this case, Oxford English is widely accepted, and might be correct or even official in an academic standpoint, but the language itself has no proper authority with which it could be identified, unless the majority of English speakers agreed to it, and all the others agreed to be considered outside of the English language (or so small a percentage that they're allowed their opinion of their own language but are widely classified as "non-English-speakers"). I'll try to address this in my next point. I guess it depends on the context you define language as, but the fact that this idea/word can be taken in different contexts by different people helps somewhat to prove my point.
Posted by AndDontCallMeShirley 2 years ago
What do you mean by "official"?
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