Speketh so pleyne: a history of plain English


Meeting: Wednesday 30 March 2011
Emeritus Faculty, Building 3T, Fellows Lane Cottage, The Australian National University
6.30 pm, networking and nibbles from 6.00 pm
>> Find the Emeritus Faculty using Google maps

Many organisations give lip service to writing in plain language, yet they still send out too many hard-to-fathom documents. Others argue they should be exempt. So what exactly is plain English, and what documents should it apply to?

Neil James will trace the debate about plain language over some 2000 years, ranging from ancient Athens to the court of Henry VIII, from the romantic poets to the Battle of Britain. Although plain language has grown considerably in method and influence in the last 50 years, its core concepts are very old. Neil will present 15 core principles as they emerged historically.

Along the way, Neil will illustrate how great writers have supported the case for a plain style in literary as well as in everyday documents. Yet it is only now that governments around the world are beginning to legislate for clearer communication. This present both challenges and opportunities for editors.

About the speaker
Neil James is executive director of the Plain English Foundation, which combines plain English training, editing and evaluation with a campaign for a more ethical public language. His latest book, Writing at Work critiques how public language is used and abused, and suggests how it can be radically improved. Neil is also the editor of Writers on Writing and The Complete Sentimental Bloke. He has also published over 60 articles and essays on language and literature in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement and the Daily Telegraph. Neil speaks regularly about public language in the media, where he is featured on the ABC local radio network.

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