Sunday, April 17, 2011

Failure to Understand Legal Language

While looking for a TED Talk about the environment to use in a research paper for English class, I stumbled across an interesting title in the sidebar. It read, “Alan Siegel: Let’s simplify legal jargon!” Seeing as my blog title contains the word jargon, I figured it would be treasonous if I didn’t click the link. Here’s what TED has to say, “Alan Siegel is a branding expert and one of the leading authorities on business communication, Alan Siegel wants to put plain English into legal documents for government and business.” Throughout this speech, Alan Siegel explains how he takes unintelligible legal documents and translates them into plain English so that consumers can better understand the content. His company tests the confusion level of documents and tries to simplify the language or provide examples of computations for paperwork like tax returns (Ironically, tax day is today). Siegel says that difficult language puts consumers at risk. I agree that helping the general population to understand legal documents is important; however, this method shows little faith in the people. Should we be changing the language or educating people before they approach legal paperwork (some of the simplification process does include teaching through example, as mentioned above)? In consumer education I learned to fill out very simple tax returns, but I don’t think I’m prepared to approach complex versions. Maybe schools should focus on strengthening the curriculum for classes like consumer education. I respect Alan Siegel’s work, but it seems like a short term solution. Siegel’s company is merely a band-aid for the larger issue at hand. Once again my computer is having formatting issues. I'll get this checked out. On a happier note, my favorite line from Siegel’s speech: I define simplicity as a means to achieving clarity, transparency and empathy, building humanity into communications.

Monday, April 11, 2011

'Like' it or not

Looking at a blog post by a teenager (for instance those written by my classmates), you might never realize the age of the writer. Through writing teens are capable of disguising their youth. We have time to edit our thoughts into concise, meaningful sentences. Oral language is a different story. Ideas are racing through our minds faster than we can filter, so you might hear the occasional (or frequent) slip up. ‘Like’ is a very common language “mistake” for American teenagers. ‘Like’ is used as a filler to indicate a pause in order to think. To adults, teen conversations can seem very juvenile when fillers such as ‘like’ and ‘y’know’ are used. Believe it or not, filler words are not limited to American teens. Every language and age group has a set of filler words. It's more common for adults to use the fillers ‘um’ and ‘ah’. Often times adults think the use of ‘like’ is more incorrect than other fillers because ‘like’ is an actual word in the English language and has a correct use. ‘Like’ is a confusing filler because it is used to establish a pause, to indicate metaphor, to introduce gestures/reactions, to replace ‘says’ in dialogue, to show similarities, and to express delight. Wikipedia indicates that ‘like’ is a slang term in Finnish, French, Norwegian, and Portuguese. Obviously these languages use words that have the same meaning as ‘like’, not necessarily the exact word. To prove that fillers aren’t strictly American, the first link featured below has an entertaining video of teens from the UK speaking in slang and then translating into more universal English. See how much you understand! Finally, I find it interesting that certain filler words are common in occupations. For instance, the word ‘so’ has become typical for radio hosts and I guess anyone with a story to tell. Why is ‘so’ and introductory and transition filler? Any thoughts? BBC article about UK teenage slang: BBC article about like: Wikipedia page about filler words: Freakonomics blog post about so: I apologize for the odd format of this post and lack of spacing between paragraphs. Neither of my home computers will allow me to add spacing to my blog post. I will attempt to fix this problem elsewhere.