Of great interest and relevance to the teacher of TESOL are the on-going movements against the unnecessarily complicated use of English and for the replacement of such usage by clearer forms of expression (Crystal 1987:378). Both in Britain and the United States, because of pressure from teachers, authors, writers and communicators, governments have made efforts to redesign forms and reports, etc., in plain English which could be understood with ease.
President Carter issued an Executive Order in March 1978 requiring regulations to be written in plain English. This order was revoked by President Reagan in 1981, but â€œit promoted a great deal of legislation throughout the country, and an increase in plain English usage among corporationsâ€ (Crystal 1987:378).
As a consequence of growing interest in Plain English, instruction manuals, government forms and documents, and many other materials for public use have been greatly simplified. Medical labels, Nutrition Facts, etc., are presented in readable and easily understandable form. Corporations have begun to use the services of skilled technical literature writers for this purpose. There has, however, been continued objection from legal professions based on â€œthe risk of ambiguity inherent in the use of every day languageâ€ which, they claim, makes it unsuitable for precision.
Dayananda (1986:13) presents the following as the characteristics of Plain English:
1. Prefer the shorter word to the longer one.
2. Use simple, everyday words rather than fancy ones.
3. Prefer verbs over nouns and adjectives.
4. Prefer the specific word to the general.
5. Write short sentences with an average of no more than 20 words.
6. Use the active voice rather than the passive.
7. Be a miser with compound and complex sentences and a spend thrift with simple sentences.
8. Write short paragraphs with an average of about 765 words.
9. Avoid paragraphs that exceed five typed lines for business letters and ten lines for longer compositions.
10. Write with the ear. A sentence may look good on paper but its cadence may be jarring. Listen to your sentences in your head as you write, and do not write anything that you could not comfortably say.
11. Write for the eye as well as the mind. Prepare an overall design, positioning understandable headings, subheadings, and captions for each segment, showing the organization of the text. Make the whole document visually appealing.
12. Use appropriate underlining, ink color that contrasts sharply with the paper, lists, boxes or panels, bold or other typefaces to emphasize points.
13. Use â€˜white spaceâ€™ in margins, between sections, paragraphs, and lines to make the document look good. (Cited from Crystal 1987:379).
The English taught, spoken, and written in the Third World countries is often not plain, simple, and straightforward. As in the Indian sub-continent, it is derived, more often than not, from the English style spoken and written a century ago, in some instances. We certainly need to emphasize grammatical correctness in learning English, but it is equally important to cultivate in our learners a sensitivity and skill to use natural, simple, and straightforward English. Indian newspapers in English and the radio news broadcasts should take the initiative in simplifying the usage.