Another attempt at plain language

Phillips, Addison addison at
Tue Sep 15 19:16:27 CEST 2015

I agree.

I also question whether accessibility is a primary driver behind simplified textual variants: I most commonly have seen controlled language as an adjunct to machine translation and as a way of simplifying documentation development in general. That also makes me question the subtag “plain”, since the goal wasn’t necessarily plain-ness. Often the vocabularies I’ve seen used could be highly technical—but with a highly structured, rigidly controlled vocabulary and grammar. There are, of course, other applications for “plain” language variations…

Maybe more to the point: I see ‘plain’ as a kind of private agreement about a language variation (John Cowan has already pointed out that all language tags are a kind of “private agreement in public”). The question I have is whether there is value to a *generic* (no prefix field) subtag (this list has historically been allergic to these, not that this means we can’t make such a one: we’re just downright cautious about making them) that might interfere with other language negotiation, given that in many cases there will not be an “xx-notplain” flavor of text corresponding to the “xx-plain” and which might also be selected.

From: Ietf-languages [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at] On Behalf Of Peter Constable
Sent: Monday, September 14, 2015 5:19 PM
To: Mark Davis ☕️; Michael Everson
Cc: ietf-languages at; Tobias Bengfort
Subject: RE: Another attempt at plain language

I have no problem with wanting to use a language tag to declare “this is a simplified variant” (relative to some other document that doesn’t have that).

But before proceeding with anything along this line, I think I’d want to see some input from linguistic experts that are dealing with this area generally — and by that, I don’t someone working just on accessibility. Content may be authored using controlled language in a variety of contexts for a variety of reasons. Rather than doing something one-off in response to someone interested in accessibility, I’d want to understand what the entire space looks like, what the various usage scenarios are, and from that whether one tag is enough, or whether there eventually need to be a set of tags with some systematic inter-relationships.


From: Ietf-languages [mailto:ietf-languages-bounces at] On Behalf Of Mark Davis ??
Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2015 8:49 AM
To: Michael Everson <everson at<mailto:everson at>>
Cc: ietf-languages at<mailto:ietf-languages at>; Tobias Bengfort <tobias.bengfort at<mailto:tobias.bengfort at>>
Subject: Re: Another attempt at plain language

On Sun, Sep 13, 2015 at 5:14 PM, Michael Everson <everson at<mailto:everson at>> wrote:
I don’t know. A conformance statement? In any case it doesn’t seem taggable. There are books for early readers and young adults and college students but the difference of language use in those books is not precisely defined. Nor is the WCAG’s recommendation (or requirement) without ambiguity.

As I wrote, this is overly formalistic.

If the purpose is to distinguish webpages by BCP47 language tags, it is perfectly reasonable on a site to want to distinguish between a "normal" version, and a simplified version (not only for accessibility, but also for second-language speakers).

Of the many thousands of languages that are encodeable with BCP47, almost none of them have a "precise definition". It is not productive to disallow a reasonably clear variant because it doesn't meet a standard also not met by essentially any of the primary language subtags.


— Il meglio è l’inimico del bene —
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