At the end of August, the so-called “Plain Language Bill” was approved in second reading in New Zealand, a bill that envisages replacing the generally complex and tangled vocabulary of official documents with a simpler, more familiar and understandable language. The proposal has generated a rather intense debate among New Zealand deputies and has yet to be definitively approved: according to the ruling Labor Party, which supports it, if it becomes law it will help to guarantee a basic democratic right, i.e. a better understanding of the acts. officers.
The goal of the Plain Language Bill (which can be translated as “plain language bill”) is to use easy-to-understand words and neatly constructed sentences to communicate more directly with the public. It requires all government communications to be “clear, concise, well organized and suitable” for the reader to understand, so that they can better understand and exploit the information they seek. The proposal also covers communications and procedures such as residence permit applications, divorce proceedings and access to state subsidies.
Since the 1970s, movements for the adoption of a simpler language have spread to several countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada: in 2010 the “Plain Writing Act” was approved in the United States, which provides that all official documents intended for the public are “written with clarity” (in English-speaking countries a language considered simple is one that uses sentences of up to 15-20 words, verbs in active rather than passive form and common words instead of those of technical jargon ).
Even in Italy, during the last legislature, a proposal with similar objectives had come to be discussed in parliament: a group of deputies had in fact asked for the introduction of a measure that would make it possible to better explain the laws already approved, often written in language dark and difficult to understand for those who are not in the trade. The bill was then entrusted to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Chamber, which however has not yet considered it.
In New Zealand, too, the theme of language simplification has been receiving great attention for some time, and there are even prizes awarded to those who propose the best attempt to transform a sentence that is too complex. One of the awards recently went to those who replaced a communication from the government’s Department of Statistics:
Over the course of the year, we tested innovation readiness and adaptability to organizational changes, made significant changes to our prioritization system and investment approaches, switched to activity-based operations, and saw a tally of the teams around [il dipartimento di] Statistics in dedicating time to activities to counter the critical points for customers and those within them.
with a much more simplified version:
We have verified how ready our organization is to innovate and make changes. We also changed our approach to priorities and investments, and moved to a flexible working style for our staff. In response, the staff focused on solving their own problems and those of customers.
Labor MP Rachel Boyack, who tabled the bill, noted that New Zealanders have the right to understand clearly what the government is asking them to do and what their rights are. According to Boyack, when the government communicates in a way that people do not understand, it can happen that they do not take advantage of the services available to them and fail to participate fully in social life, thus losing trust in institutions.
Supporters of the law say that its approval is a matter of social justice and democracy: in particular, it would serve to improve access to information for certain categories of people, such as those who speak English as a second language (including migrants), those with disabilities or the elderly. However, it would also facilitate the collection of taxes and would save employees of public offices and those of call centers a lot of requests for clarification.
However, not everyone agrees: some opposition politicians believe that the checks that should be introduced to verify the comprehensibility of the documents would generate new costs and new bureaucracy.
Linguists also seem divided on the issue. Many argue that on a general level a simpler and more direct communication certainly has positive effects, while others believe that an excessive simplification of language does not necessarily help to make communication with the public more effective or transparent.
– Read also: There are those who would like to change the name of New Zealand
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