Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Jacqueline Athanasatos: You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth

The Plain Language Bill 2021 – It’s a race to the bottom, folks…

It is something of a perplexing juxtaposition to see recent reports that “streaming in schools” is discriminatory and racist and yet, surely, The Plain Language Bill is much the same. It is implicitly assuming the hearer/reader lacks a certain level of intelligence or education. 

Policy-makers are now planning a monumental makeover for the legalese inherent in public documents that interface We, The People and Them, The Red Tape Brigade. To create a new “plain language” framework in the simplest possible terms. 

But who defines what is plain and what is not? Unlike yoghurt, not so clear-cut. Ohhh the irony - that the definition of “plain language” in the Act has already been revised, because it was not written clearly enoughYou simply cannot make this stuff up. Sure, one size does not fit all, but a bureaucratic layer cake will be the end result, with further incremental costs to the taxpayer.

Does this process not amount to the “dumbing-down” of the (English) language to cater for a real or imagined “lowest common denominator?” 

The Plain Language Bill is unlikely to do New Zealand much credit on the world stage, and those who voted it into law could at least have the grace to blush. Australian and British newspapers are certainly having bit of fun with it. “Plain is”, as “plain does” – but will it pay dividends? I doubt it.

The Public Servants of this country, as if not hard-pressed enough, will now be paying lip-service to a government that already owes us an explanation as to the what and where, and why and how much? Telling adults how to communicate in “simplistic terms” is a slippery slope down the rabbit-hole of more State control. Put simply, it stinks. 

The beauty and eloquence of language, of any language, has been captured by writers, poets, politicians and public figures since before Bible times. People generally love creative expression, and learn to emulate it.

For those who can recall the idiosyncratic Barrister Horace Rumpole of The Bailey, it was indeed his wont to recite passages from classic poems and plays as a distraction device in the Courtroom, much to the undiluted delight of his audience. 

But back to The Bill – leaving no past participle unturned, enforcement will be the order of the day, (when they cannot fill potholes or stop ram raids). “Plain Language Officers” will “report” agencies that fail to comply. So, what are the dire consequences for those miscreants who digress from the prescribed formulae of Plain Language?

Perhaps these rumbunctious rapscallions should have to write 100 lines for every breach?

“I will no longer overly-complicate the convoluted utterances that formulated the inexplicably complex labyrinth of variegated vernacular and dialectic aberrations I have thus far employed…” 

Now, let me explain about Royal Assent…

Jacqueline Athanasatos is a former Journalist, television scriptwriter and freelance writer.


robert Arthur said...

A few years ago there was a move to simplify language in legal and insurance documents etc and very successful. it is only offical communication with the public involved.
The Bill will give the public the ability to object to being soft soaped and deceived with pages of coded waffle.
On the BFD site a year or two ago a tertiary student girl subitted some paper she had written in modern tertiary coded language. Her father had pointed out that it was somewhat obtuse and she could not understand why. Most of the BFD readers could immediately see the problem. It was written in the curious jargon which now pervades the many filler make work non practical mushy subjects now available in the tertiary system.
We do not want expressions like "cannon of imperialism" appearing in official communications meant to be understood by all.

Mudbayripper said...

I have to admit, a lot of legal and bureaucratic jargon has most of us floundering.
But you know. I and probably around 98% of New Zealanders don't understand a single word of Te Reo.

Anonymous said...

Yes, surely the Bill should also require the conveyance of thought/information in the language of the intended audience and any bastardisatiion, in the form of the 'manglish'' now prevalent, should henceforth stop.

Silver Surfer NZ said...

I quote the author

'It is implicitly assuming the hearer/reader lacks a certain level of intelligence or education.

I work in the accessibility area. There are many conditions where a reader of a document has an impairment. It does not mean they lack intelligence or education. There are also those the education system has let down. many of those with dyslexia will confirm this comment. Dyslexics in general have high intelligence.I have a dyslexic relative who has three graduate and post-graduate arts degrees with high marks. he still has reading issues where the language is complex.

I have to disagree with the writer, as I do with the complex writings of many journalists.

Don said...

The title of the bill is interesting, should it not be 'Plain English?"
How can language be plain when indecipherable contrived words are freely used sprinkled about government statements and publications. One need not go past
the nonsensical names used as departmental titles to see that "Plain Language" is an indication that Monty Python is taking over our government.

Ravi said...

Many Government missives are now heavily sprinkled with Maori terms and words that are baffling to the vast majority of the population and are capable of differing interpretation by those that speak Maori.
Will this latest piece of thought control therefore purge the Maori gobbledegook so that we, the majority, can better understand?
In the meantime, I will continue to delight in the employment of polysyllabic vocables by means of which I am often inebriated by the exuberance of my own verbosity.