Published: 31/01/2002, Volume II2, No. 5790 Page 22
I was interested to read John Post's and Jenny Harding's comments (letters, 17 January) on my article 'Talking turkey' (20 December). Their concerns about plain English are in fact very common ones, to which the plain language movement has well-rehearsed answers.
John Post claims that plain English alternatives are often less precise, leading us to 'sacrifice intellectual clarity'. This is a common objection in the field of law, where plain language supporters have concentrated most of their efforts.
Yet there are many demonstration projects, in many countries, showing that even complex legal documents can be written in plain English without losing accuracy or precision.
Moreover, far from detracting from 'sharp thinking', plain language ensures it.
You cannot record an idea plainly if you have not thought it through clearly, but complex language may conceal the weakest thinking. As for Jenny Harding's concern that using plain English could lead to language that can express no emotion, surely the point of business communication is to communicate a factual message? Plain language is not intended to apply to literary writing, which is where emotion usually belongs.
The term 'doublespeak' (which the article does not in fact claim to be George Orwell's) says it all.
'Doublespeak' was coined in the US in the early 1970s by the National Council of Teachers of English. Blending Orwell's 'doublethink' and 'newspeak', it is used to refer to language that diverts attention from or conceals the writer's (or speaker's) true meaning.
My interest in tackling NHS jargon has nothing to do with finding it irksome myself, but with the facts that the public understand plain language better, find it faster to read, and prefer it.
Sarah Carr Warrington