Defining ‘plain language’ in contemporary South Africa
Defining the concept ‘plain language’ has been hugely problematic since the origins of the socalled Plain Language Movement in the 1970s in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Definitions of ‘plain language’ abound, yet James (2008: 6) warns, in relation to plain language practitioners, that “we can’t yet call ourselves a coherent field, let alone a profession, while we offer such varying definitions of what we do”. Contemporary international definitions of ‘plain language’ are of three types: numerical (or formula-based), elements-focused, or outcomesfocused (Cheek 2010). In South Africa, protective legislation gave rise to a local definition of ‘plain language’ which was widely acclaimed for its comprehensiveness and practicality. From a textlinguistic angle, this article ruminates on the nature of the definition of ‘plain language’ in the National Credit Act (2005) and the Consumer Protection Act (2008), and critically appraises the value of the definition as a sharp and reliable conceptual tool for use by plain language practitioners – as applied linguists – in the absence of norms, standards or guidelines for the use of plain language in the consumer industry in contemporary South Africa.
Keywords: plain language, definition, readability, text processing, language policy