Another attempt at plain language

Doug Ewell doug at
Wed Sep 2 20:31:10 CEST 2015

John Cowan <cowan at mercury dot ccil dot org> wrote:

> 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.

Fair enough.

> 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.

Governments that pass laws requiring the use of "plain language" in
official business, such as the one Tobias cited, almost always have the
goal of getting rid of language that is deemed bureaucratic or
obfuscated. In this light, the term "plain language" (avoiding
unnecessary circumlocution) might indeed be different from "simple
language" (using small words instead of big ones).

> 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.

I know Wikipedia needs a tag that means "English with limited
vocabulary"; in fact, they made up the tag "simple" for this purpose
(and probably wouldn't replace it even if an official tag were added). I
don't know how much usage such a tag would see other than this --
probably more than a specific tag like "English readable by someone with
a 6th-grade education" or "by someone with one year of ESL training."

Doug Ewell | | Thornton, CO 🇺🇸

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