Language and Choices

In a brief twitter conversation with the people over at PhD(isabled), I found myself re-reading the Society for Disability Studies’ Guide to Accessible Presentations. The guide mentions using Simple English, or moving towards Simple English. I’ve come across Basic English while teaching EAL (English as an Additional Language), and while I can see the appeal, I find the rules actually restrict language, particularly when it comes to communication between mother-tongue English speakers and English learners, due to the ommission of words that would be included in everyday conversation.

Simple English, or Simplified English, while new to me, seems to be a more comprehensive version, which has a less strict approach to Basic English, increasing the vocabulary list from 850 words, to around 2000. This collection of words is one I recognise again – the General Service List, which is a collection of the most frequently used words in English. There are a number of secondary lists, including one for Academic English – the Academic Word List. This list is used when IELTS is taught – and while lots of them are recognisable as non-academic words, there are also words like “paradigm”, “context”, “ethnic”, and “implications”; these are the sort of words I wouldn’t teach in a General English class until students were already at an advanced level, but would be needed by students who were trying to read an introductory social science textbook.

I have to admit, the idea of writing in Simplified English is both appealing and awful. I do like a run-on sentence, but at the same time, I’m aware that I’m equally irritated by books and articles that I read which seem to be purposefully hard to read – and certainly would be impossible for my IELTS students, or anyone who hasn’t previously been introduced to concepts those texts discuss. I’ve not really thought of myself as a theorist – which is probably to do with having started in tertiary education as a scientist, rather than a sociologist; theory is something I read and try to apply to the world, not wrestle with myself. A lot of the theory I read is the most difficult to understand, and this is why I find Simplified English appealing; I wonder if it would be possible to write theory using a more limited vocabulary – and taking the time to explain topics and concepts as you go.

Another reason this appeals is that I will be using a lot of theory in my research – theories of embodiment, of gender, sexuality, language, power, disability, illness, and pain, and probably half a dozen more I’ll come across in six months’ time and decide are absolutely crucial for me to include. But at the same time, I want disabled people to benefit from my work, and this means my work needs to reach them – and therefore be readable and understandable by people who have no training in sociology or related disciplines.

I don’t know if it will be possible. I don’t know if it will be too wordy – if I’ll end up using complex words as a shorthand for concepts that might take a while to explain, or if it’ll end up less comprehensible because I keep stopping to explain what it is I’m going on about. But, at the same time, I think it’s a concept I’m going to play with.


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