The Plain English Movement

As we discussed in a previous post on the “Language of the People“, legal language has evolved to be better understood by one group of people: average citizens.

Today I would like to explain the origin of this movement that has taken hold in Spain and has been introduced in Mexico.

This process of modernization of legal language in English began with the Plain English Movement, which focuses on simplifying phrasing for the purposes of comprehension.

In 1948 the British official Sir Ernest Gowers published Plain Words in order to improve that English that was used at that time in drafting official texts.

Some of his advice, which had a high impact in their time were:

– The editor of the text must be deeply familiar with the subject matter of the writing, why the document is being drafted and who the reader is, since the writer must adapt their style to the target audience.

– The text should be simple and brief.

– The writing must be accurate and complete.

– The editor must critically review the text before submission.

This idea of ​​simplicity of legal texts was the pillar on which the Plain English Movement was founded in the United States, which became a part of the movement of consumer protection that was developed in 1970.

The main manifestations of this movement in the English language are:

1974: Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company simplified 2 of its insurance policies.

1975: New York Citibank simplified its promissory note. The bank introduced a new English version that was “more intelligible” in a press conference broadcast on television.

1978: U.S. President Jimmy Carter, issued Executive Order number 12044, by which it was established that federal regulations should conform to criteria of simplicity and clarity.

1979: Within the American Institute for Research in Washington, the Document Design Center was created to assist companies and organizations in streamlining their public documents. To this end, it published the newsletter “Simply Stated” for 10 years.

1989: The State Bar of California signed an agreement by which it was established that both lawyers and legal institutions should simplify the language they use.

1990: The State Bar of Texas created the Plain Language Committee.

Later we will see how this movement has been adopted by other English speaking countries.

(Versión en español: