Must everything be understandable for everyone - limits of Plain and Easy Language

The discussion about intelligibility sometimes takes on strange traits. Lately, I have often seen criticism that certain specialist texts are not generally understandable. It was mainly about easy and simple language, but also about digital accessibility.

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Nobody understands everything

First of all, I'll gladly admit that I no longer understand many texts from my former discipline. I majored in Political Science and minored in Sociology. Out of interest, I had read books by two currently in Germany well-known sociologists - Hartmut Rosa and Andreas Rägwitz. Well, I stopped reading pretty quickly. These are not popular scientific treatises, but scientific texts that can only be understood with the appropriate vocabulary or require a lot of concentration, neither of which I can muster for such a topic. I doubt that many of the buyers of these books, without the appropriate background or time, have finished the books.

It's an impossible task

But that is the difference between popular science and textbooks. The latter do not claim to be understandable for everyone. One would have to manage the balancing act of informing the beginner without boring the professional. It's hard to do, that's the first argument. Ultimately, this is a specialist discourse that laypeople simply cannot participate in. That sounds arrogant, but it's not. I would also not presume to talk into the subject of a car electronics technician or plumber. Perhaps it is a fundamental mistake of our time that everyone thinks they can have a say everywhere. We have 80 million football professionals, climate experts, virulogists and now, of course, experts on the Russia-Ukraine complex.

Meta Communication is not for everyone

The second argument is that, above all, in plain and simple language it is a question of meta-communication, i.e. communication about communication. Why should someone who has problems with everyday language look at texts about understandable language? Doesn't he know anything useful to do with his time? The same applies to digital accessibility. There are numerous gradations here. There are articles by developers that are aimed at developers and there are articles by The Verge or Forbes that are aimed at the general public.

Space for improvement

There is of course room for improvement when it comes to the comprehensibility and design of texts. Super long sentences are not destiny. But in the end, this is content for experts who conduct specialist discourses. You can only simplify to a certain extent without becoming either banal or wrong. For example, if you have to explain all terms and concepts, the texts become bloated. I know that from bloated plain language texts.

Not everone can make Texts more understandable

Ultimately - and this is the third argument - comprehensibility is also a specialist craft. I came to this realization after a long time. Every working person is an expert in their work. At the same time, in today's everyday working life, we expect her to do a lot of things on the side. The clerk should not only know the current paragraphs and implementation regulations - he should also be able to write understandable letters. The scientists should not only be technically excellent, but also communicate in a generally understandable way. There are people who can do it. But most people can't do that and it also trivializes the work of the comprehensibility professionals. All professional authors have people who edit their books, i.e. professionals for clarity.

Specialist texts can simply not address the general public or professionals from other specialist areas - argument no. 5 - because they require a certain level of specialist knowledge in precisely this specialist area. This is taken for granted in the natural sciences, but it is no different in the humanities and social sciences. After all, there are numerous professionals today who use articles in the press, radio interviews or podcasts to explain their theses in a more understandable way. As a rule, verbal communication tends to be less complex.

Let's concentrate on the Basics

Since the resources on both sides are limited, we won't be able to make everything or even a fraction more understandable in the foreseeable future. Perhaps there will be tools in the foreseeable future that will support us in our everyday lives, but for the time being we have to come to terms with the current situation.

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