In Plain Words


I need to watch my words. I talked about this seven months ago (link). I guess I forgot.

Wikipedia tells us that plain language, "also referred to as simple language or clear language, is clear, modern, unpretentious language carefully written to ease understanding." Using the term "unpretentious" is a bit, well, pretentious, but I understand what the author is trying to say. He or she is talking using clear, everyday, easy-to-read words and phrases when we write.

Since (at least) 2006, the Literacy Partners of Manitoba have been asking "organizations to write simply and clearly so that more readers can understand the message." LPM say that "plain language is not dumbing down... [and] is good style." Also, they say, "levels of plain language... are as simple and clear as the concepts allow."

Further east, the PEI Literacy Alliance adds, "Everyone benefits when information is presented clearly and in an understandable format." They claim there are "time and cost savings to government, community-based groups and businesses who provide information in plain language."

On the west coast, BC Literacy seems to agree. "Clear language helps improve service through clearer forms, documents and letters," they write. "Time and money are saved when people can communicate openly and honestly."

The Northwest Territories Literacy Council is just one of many groups who offer "A Plain Language Audit Tool". A similar service is provided by the Toronto Centre for Community Learning & Development's Clear Language and Design web page.

So, there you have it. All across Canada, east to west, north and south, the literacy and basic adult education field is saying that we should use "plain language" when we write.

And yet.

I started writing this blog post when I got an email from Jenny Horsman. She was passing on a short document written by Linzi Manicom and Shirley Walters, which read, in part:
We are looking for reflective accounts of community organizing projects and popular education experiences that grapple with the challenges of pursuing transformative feminist pedagogy in the broader context of neoliberal globalization. We are inviting stories that build on the traditions of popular education, that explore new directions and strategies, and which illustrate the difficulties and the possibilities for feminist popular education today.
Yeesh! What does all that mean? And how can such a froth of... big, uncommon, value-laden words come from the field of adult education?

That was where this post started.

But then I got to thinking about the learner who asked for the web address of my blog. Will they be able to read what I write here? Do I write my "literacy posts" in plain language?

No. Not really.

And I'm sorry for that.

Maybe we can all try to do a little better next time.


By the way, I lifted the picture above from plainlanguageaustralia.com.

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