Another attempt at plain language

CE Whitehead cewcathar at
Fri Sep 11 20:23:35 CEST 2015

> To: ietf-languages at
> From: tobias.bengfort at
> Subject: Re: Another attempt at plain language
> Date: Fri, 11 Sep 2015 07:17:14 +0200
> Hi,
> On 10/09/15 17:24, Doug Ewell wrote:
> > Is there enough convergence on what is being requested that someone,
> > either Tobias or someone else, could create a registration form?
> As my motivation is mostly accessibility, I wanted to get some more
> input from experts in that area. So I tried to write to
> w3c-wai-gl at Unfortunately, this did not yet work for technical
> reasons. So it may take me some more time.
> > I'm still not sure whether the proposal is for "plain language" in the
> > government sense, meaning content that gets right to the point and
> > doesn't beat around the bush, or "simplified language" that a child or
> > second-language learner could understand. These are different concepts.
> I am sorry if I contributed to that confusion by using "plain". I had
> thought it might cover all of this, which it apparently does not. Which
> term is used in the end also depends on the exact semantics. The
> candidates I recall are "plain", "easy", "simple", "basic", and "cnl".
> I am also not sure about the distinction you make. There are clearly
> different kinds of "simplified language" that are targeted at different
> audiences. IMHO "plain" is just one more style of simplified language.
> However, I have not yet found a sound definition for this.
In the trobador/troubadour verse of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, as near as I can make out, "plain" or "direct" (to-the-point, not "encoded" or "hermetic", and not also "rich" in alliteration, puns, and internal rhyme) and simple (easy to understand) were roughly the same thing --  "trobar leu"  or "light trobar".

However, today in English and I think in other languages too, "simple" and "plain"/"direct" have slightly different meanings. The subtag "leicht" would do for "simple" I think, as I said before.
To me "plain" is language where you start a phrase by stating your focus, and then say something about that focus -- unless you really want (for some good reason) to emphasize what you are saying about the focus. In "plain" language you also are careful to use words that are not vague, that mean exactly what you want them to, to use specifics (name who said what when; do not just sfor example say "researchers said"), and, as you all mentioned, to avoid jargon. Perhaps "plain" overlaps "simple" a bit -- as "simple" too no doubt avoids jargon, and also, in "plain" language, you break up long or unclear phrases  into shorter ones.  That's my understanding of "plain".

But I agree with Karl and Doug that the subtag that seems best here is one for "simple" language. I probably would not mix it up with a subtag for language that avoids field-specific "jargon" or "terminology".


--C. E. Whitehead
cewcathar at
> tobias
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