Maybe you’ve stumbled on an article on (or even written in) so-called “plain language“ and wondered what this means. Plain language is a simplified variant of German that specifically targets not only people with cognitive deficits, but also people with a relatively limited knowledge of the German language. Plain language is used especially at agencies, authorities, and educational facilities to break down language barriers and to enhance the sense of autonomy of people with impairments.
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The characteristic features of plain language are:
- Short sentences.
- Each sentence contains only one statement.
- The sentences are always written in the sequence: subject–verb–object.
- The passive and conditional voices are avoided.
- In German, the genitive is generally replaced by the dative.
- No precise times or quantities.
- No synonyms, special characters, or negatives.
- Composite words are shown by hyphens or interpuncts.
- Rhetoric style and abstract terms are avoided.
- Loan words, technical terms, and abbreviations are explained.
In Germany, the group of persons for whom plain language is designed comprises about ten million people. Since 2011, plain language has been firmly anchored in the so-called “Barrier-free Information Technology Ordinance 2.0”. The original idea was born in Sweden, where human rights activists have been campaigning for language that is easy to understand for people with disabilities ever since 1968.
Incidentally, translating documents written in standard or technical German into plain language is no mean feat itself, and easily involves just as much effort as translating a text from one language into another. Speaking in plain language too is a challenge that requires plenty of exercise.
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