Monday, June 25, 2007

George Orwell and Plain Language in Law

Judith D. Fischer, University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, has an article on the Social Science Research Network entitled Why George Orwell's Ideas About Language Still Matter for Lawyers.

The article deals with the use of clear language in legal writing but also analyses the use of deceit in legal and political discourse in the United States:

"The twin themes of Politics and the English Language (George Orwell's essay of 1946) are that writers should express themselves in plain English and that 'euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness' prevent or conceal clear thought. 'The fight against bad English is not frivolous,' he argued, because clear thought is necessary for cogent analysis (...)"

"This article examines Orwell's two themes in the context of legal language in the United States today. Part II shows that legal writers have reduced inflated language... On the other hand, Orwell's warnings about misleading and duplicitous governmental language have not been so well heeded. Part III shows that misleading language is common in today's laws and legal discourse".
Many of the ideas could apply to other countries such as Canada.

Related Library Boy posts that deal with plain language include:

  • Plain Language Resources for Law, Business, Government, and Life (August 9, 2005): "Clear language or plain language refers to jargon-free, understandable language. For the past 20 years or more, an international movement has been working to make the language used in law, health information, financial services, commerce and business more accessible. Plain language does NOT mean dumbed down or simplistic vocabulary."
  • Move Toward Plain Language in Canadian Court Decisions (November 7, 2005): "Saturday's Globe and Mail contains an article by Richard Blackwell entitled 'Doing the write thing: Judges used to put out decisions that were incomprehensible. Now they are sometimes even eloquent. The writing lessons didn't hurt'... As the article explains, the Supreme Court has been removing Latin words from its rulings and altering the format to make them easier to follow for people reading electronic versions on a website. The clear language push is also being promoted in Canada by such organizations as the National Judicial Institute and the Montreal-based Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, where new judges have their writing critiqued by English professors."
  • Plain Language Legal Writing (January 22, 2006): "The Canadian Bar Association's PracticeLink has just published its third in a series of articles on plain language in legal writing: Mastering Modern Legal Correspondence."
  • Myths About the Complexity of Legal Language (November 17, 2006): "The Social Science Research Network has published a forthcoming article on Some Myths about Legal Language by Professor Peter Tiersma of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles (...) Excerpts from the final section of the full-text: (...) 'Thus, the main obstacle to writing the law in plain English is that, unless the law itself is vastly simplified, it will require the use of so many words that there will be nothing plain about it. Most advocates of plain English recognize this problem. Although they continue to agitate for plainer language in legal documents, including statutes, they realize that many parts of the law are too complex to allow them to be fully and comprehensibly explained to ordinary citizens. They therefore advocate that those legal areas in which citizens have particular interest, like criminal law, be officially summarized and explained'."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:16 pm

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