Another attempt at plain language

John Cowan cowan at
Wed Sep 2 19:31:59 CEST 2015

Doug Ewell scripsit:

> 1. the boundaries between "plain" and "non-plain" (obfuscated?
> bureaucratic?) language are hard to define, and

The boundaries between any two language varieties are hard to define,
and neither we nor the ISO RAs generally demand that people who propose
tags are able to do so.  Looking at the Simple English Wikipedia
<> suggest that simple
language (I prefer this term to plain language) is intended to be
intelligible to people who have not mastered more complex forms of the
language in question.

The opposite of simple language is not necessarily bureaucratic or
obfuscated; this posting is neither (having regard to the intended
audience), but it is certainly not written in simple English.

Compare the introduction to an article mentioned on the home page of the
SEWP, "Aerogel", in English and Simple English.


Aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in
which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas.[1]
The result is a solid with extremely low density[2] and low thermal
conductivity. Nicknames include frozen smoke,[3] solid smoke, solid
air, or blue smoke owing to its translucent nature and the way light
scatters in the material. It feels like fragile expanded polystyrene to
the touch. Aerogels can be made from a variety of chemical compounds.[4]

Aerogel was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, as
a result of a bet[citation needed] with Charles Learned over who
could replace the liquid in "jellies" with gas without causing

Aerogels are produced by extracting the liquid component of a gel
through supercritical drying. This allows the liquid to be slowly
dried off without causing the solid matrix in the gel to collapse from
capillary action, as would happen with conventional evaporation. The
first aerogels were produced from silica gels. Kistler's later work
involved aerogels based on alumina, chromia and tin dioxide. Carbon
aerogels were first developed in the late 1980s.[citation needed]

Aerogel does not have a designated material with set chemical formula
but the term is used to group all the material with a certain geometric


Aerogel is a gel in which the liquid part has been replaced with a gas
(usually air). It was invented in 1931 by Samuel Stephens Kistler. The
most common type of aerogel is silica aerogel, which is made from
the same molecule as glass. It is a solid material that is almost as
light as air. It is the world's lightest material.[1] Its melting
point is 1200 degrees Celsius, which is comparable to crocidolite
asbestos. Aerogel is the best thermal insulator available and can be
used in construction in place of fiberglass insulation. It allows better
insulation with less material, although it is much more expensive than
fiberglass. It is also brittle, making it more difficult to install than
fiberglass. Most aerogel is not water-resistant, and even small amounts
of water can destroy it. It is also safer than fiberglass or asbestos
because it is not known to cause cancer if inhaled into the lungs.[2]
Some aerogel insulation, however, contains fiberglass to increase its


I think it's clear enough which variety is which.

> 2. "plain" English and "plain" German and "plain" Lavatbura-Lamusong
> are fundamentally different languages, and variants that work across
> languages usually require better commonality than this.

Exactly what counts as simplicity is language-specific: in English,
simple words are short words, but this would not be true in Malagasy.
Nevertheless, I think simplicity can be defined in a cross-linguistic
way by the intention of the writer.

> In regard to (1), one could certainly expect a great deal of
> disagreement over the definition "writing that is clear, concise,
> well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the
> subject or field and intended audience." Does this post qualify? Does
> yours? Who is the arbiter?

You tag a page as German if you intended to write it in German, no
matter how bad your German may be.  Likewise with simple language.

John Cowan        cowan at
Female celebrity stalker, on a hot morning in Cairo:
"Imagine, Colonel Lawrence, ninety-two already!"
El Auruns's reply:  "Many happy returns of the day!"

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