Another attempt at plain language

CE Whitehead cewcathar at
Mon Sep 7 03:21:48 CEST 2015

> To: ietf-languages at
> From: tobias.bengfort at
> Subject: Re: Another attempt at plain language
> Date: Thu, 3 Sep 2015 01:46:10 +0200
> On 02/09/15 18:15, Doug Ewell wrote:
> > 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.
> I think it would be relatively simple to register a variant `de-leicht`
> for "leichtes Deutsch". There is a more or less formal definition[1] and
> it is clearly distinct from `de`.

What I think of when you say "leicht" ('light' )is the Medieval distinction between "trobar leu"  and "trobar clus".
> Date: Wed, 2 Sep 2015 13:31:59 -0400
> From: cowan at
> To: doug at
> Subject: Re: Another attempt at plain language
> CC: ietf-languages at; tobias.bengfort at
> 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.
> (start)
> 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
> shrinkage.[5][6]
> 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
> structure.[7]
> (next)
> 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
> flexibility.
> (end)
> 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!"

(Interesting quotations; the first description focuses on the varieties of aerogel, and how it is manufactured; the second focuses on the fact that the liquid in the original gel is replaced with air, and how the resulting gel is used, and whether it is safe or toxic.
I would need both descriptions to really understand aerogel. I'm sorry but I do not see a big linguistic difference here. But I went online and found "simplified English" and it was obvious to me that there were too varieties as you claim -- though I would have more trouble spelling out the rules for the differences than you all's correspondance implied.)
I would not use the subtag "plain" unless I meant the more "clear" of the two distinct English styles -- evidenced in Michael Everson's example (in his email; see also George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language": --
-- "plain" versus "obtuse" or "obfuscating" English. (I don't know many concepts across all languages that make a sentence plain and direct or obfuscating; but focus is a key; and using what the French call "le mot juste" -- "ducks and drakes" in Orwell's example was not "le mot juste" obviously, but it might be possible to create a clear understandable sentence which had "lexical couplets" -- if you invent them yourself . . . IMO it's as easy to define "plain" English as it is to define "simplified" English but suit yourselves. )
I have problems thus with the subtag, "plain", for simplified English, and for "leicht" German. "Plain" is also defined for English at: 
To me "plain" is different than "simplified" English, and I believe you have said such; simplified is defined at:
IMO "plain" would not be a good subtag. But despite my reservations about the Medieval trobadors/troubadours' "trobar leu" ('light or plain or easy trobar'; vs "trobar clus" -- 'hermetic or closed trobar'; there was also "trobar rics" or 'rich trobar' with internal rhymes and such which "trobar clus" also had), "leicht" would be o.k. as a universal subtag in my opinion -- if you use the word "leicht". "Simple" would be o.k. if you were defining "simplified" English and if "leicht" German were the German equivalent -- is it? I was confused by the discussion, could not find the answer online.

--C. E. Whitehead
cewcathar at

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