Monday, December 07, 2009

British Parliamentary Publication on Use and Abuse of Official Language

The Public Administration Committee of the British House of Commons recently published a report entitled Bad Language: The Use and Abuse of Official Language that deals with the damage done by unclear, inaccurate and confusing language in official documents:

"The language used in public life is a frequent target for ridicule, whether by parliamentary sketchwriters making fun of ministers' speeches, or in fictional works such as the television series Yes Minister. Yet the language used by government and public bodies is important because it directly affects people's lives. It needs to enable those in government (and those who want to be in government) to explain clearly what the basis for a policy is, or to provide guidance on getting access to the range of public services. Language therefore determines how politicians and public servants relate to the people they are there to serve."

"We launched our short inquiry into official language to highlight the importance of clear and understandable language in government. In order to evaluate how effectively government uses language, we invited the public and Members of Parliament to submit examples of bad and good official language. Many of these are included in this report to illustrate how government uses (and misuses) language. We also held a public hearing to ask questions of the Plain English Campaign, the academic expert Professor David Crystal, and the political sketchwriters and columnists Matthew Parris and Simon Hoggart."

"The aim of our inquiry was not merely to highlight the worst examples of official language (although such examples have been by turns amusing and exasperating), but to explore why the language used by government matters. We examine the damaging effects that bad official language can have, before concluding on a more hopeful note with some suggestions for making official language clearer and more comprehensible, including a proposed remedy for citizens."
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."
  • 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'."
  • George Orwell and Plain Language in Law (June 25, 2007): "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 ..."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 12:54 pm


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