Internal pain points, ability to change, willingness to innovate. Official language is commonplace in government. Not only with us, but also on the other side of the world. New Zealand now wants to end it once and for all through a law against official language.
In this way, the New Zealand government wants to force bureaucrats to communicate with residents only in simple and understandable language. Whether the law will be passed remains to be seen. The opposition fears that such a law actually encourages bureaucracy, writes The Guardian. After many colorful debates, the law has now cleared two hurdles, but the last hurdle has yet to come before the controversial Ordinary Language Act.
The law aims to ensure that government communications to citizens are clear, concise, well-organized and public-friendly. There are voices in the country saying that plain language is a democratic right and a matter of social justice. “People in New Zealand have a right to understand what the government requires of them, what their rights are and what they are entitled to,” the British newspaper is quoted as saying by MP Rachel Boyack who introduced the law.
Proponents of the law see room for improvement. They point out that government communications are often about the most personal and important parts of a person’s life, such as immigration documents, divorce papers or benefits. ‘If people do not understand the language in government communications, it can lead to them not using the services to which they are entitled. And that, in turn, can lead to them losing faith in government or not fully participating in society,” Boyack said.
However, not everyone supports the law. According to opponents, some definitions are not clear enough. They also believe that the law will lead to more bureaucracy and costs by hiring people to oversee plain language, without improving communication with citizens. An opposition MP calls it “in plain language” the stupidest bill he’s come across during this cabinet term. “The law will be defeated nationwide,” he expects. Proponents point out that the law will increase tax revenues and reduce the time for officials to spend with people who don’t understand government communications. They also think that trust in the government will increase.
‘Language is not an objective view of reality’, a linguist explains in the newspaper. “We all use language to describe and frame things in a way that suits us.” Clear language can ensure that there is a little less room for this, but simpler sentences are not automatically the way to more transparency, she thinks. ‘I don’t think plain language will solve that problem. As long as people are creative, playful and resourceful, they will always find ways around that.’