TED Conversations

Sandra Martins

Managing Partner, Português Claro


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How can we simplify legal/business language?

What would it take for governments and businesses to adopt plain language in their communications with citizens and consumers? What's happening now, in your country or community, that could also work for others?

This Live Conversation will open at 2.30 pm EST on January 26th, 2012.

EDIT: Because of overwhelming enthusiastic responses, this conversation open for few more days. Sandra will be checking your comments from time to time and follow up with them. Thank you for participating!


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  • Jan 26 2012: I teach English in Finland and we talk about plain English as a slow but growing movement, even within academic circles. However, academic English still has its conventions and they are followed because they serve as 'proof of entry' into a specific community for some and restricted entry for others. I think the same applies to the language in legal and goverment documents; even though normal everyday people have them and sign them (!) they are never truly meant for a larger public but for a small community. Once the drafting of documents becomes a more inclusive endeavour involving large groups of people (think about Iceland's crowdsourced consititution), the language will become simpler because the document is really meant to be accessible to a larger public. Now to be fair, I can't read Icelandic, so I can't be sure that the consitution they are writing IS in simple language, but I would bet money that it probably is.
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      Jan 26 2012: I think you are right. I've heard that argument many times: yes, the citizens must comply with the law, but the law is not written to be read by them, it's written to be read by other lawyers, who can then explain its meaning, find its loopholes and mediate the whole process.
      The people who defend this, also say that plain language is possible (tolerable) in administrative documents (ie, the documents the state uses to communicate with citizens, other than the laws), but it can never be used to write laws. As if laws were different from any other technical text, like the instructions to install your boiler.

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