Browsing by Author "Coetzee, Sarah-Jane"
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- ItemThe comprehensibility of plain language for second language speakers of English at a South African college of further education and training(Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2019-04) Coetzee, Sarah-Jane; Southwood, Frenette; Stellenbosch University. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Dept. of General Linguistics.ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Plain language has existed in various forms and guises for more than 2000 years (Garner 2009: 40-41; Petelin 2010: 207). Although no consensus exists on a single definition of ‘plain language’ or how best to achieve plain language, plain language is a purportedly effective means for improving communication. The use of plain language is commonplace in many countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, and might be considered beneficial to citizens by virtue of the fact that many governments legislate its use. South Africa is one of the countries that has embraced plain language by incorporating it into various pieces of legislation in an effort to protect the consumer. However, the South African population generally has low literacy and education levels, and the majority of the population has an L1 other than English, the language in which most documents in the financial and other service-delivery sectors appear. What is considered plain English by L1 speakers of English may differ significantly from what second language (L2) speakers of English consider plain language (Cutts 2013). However, insufficient information exists on the effectiveness of plain English for speakers of L1s other than English (Lee 2014; Thrush 2001). Furthermore, the ability of plain language to render comprehensible English texts in contexts of multilingualism and multiculturalism warrants investigation (Cornelius 2015) – an important consideration in South Africa where English is the lingua franca of the multilingual, multicultural population. This study investigated the comprehensibility of a plain English text for non-L1 speakers of English. The participants were L1 speakers of Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa at a Western Cape college of further education and training, which has English as sole language of learning and teaching. An authentic text on the topic of funeral insurance, which is germane to a large portion of the population (Finmark South Africa 2016: 5), was selected and an analysis of the text revealed that it was a plain English text. The cloze test procedure was selected as the method of analysis. This is a commonly used technique which determines the test-taker’s comprehension of written language. A cloze test was employed in which every seventh word was deleted from the text; participants were given the text with 100 deletions indicated on the page and were required to fill in the missing words. The results of the study indicate that all three L1 groups (Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa) showed poor comprehension of the text (average scores for the three groups combined were <50%), but that the comprehension of the English L1 speakers was better than that of the English L2 speakers, although not statistically significantly so in the case of the L1 Afrikaans groups. This suggests that the criteria or guidelines for writing in such a way that the resultant text is plain (which were developed for and tested with English L1 speakers in countries in which English is the most widely spoken L1, such as the United States and United Kingdom), is not sufficient for the South African context where English is the lingua franca and the language of preference, but the L1 of less than 10% of the population (Statistics South Africa 2012: 24). The inadequacy of some of the plain language techniques can serve as an immediate warning to plain language practitioners to avoid a blanket, uncritical application of these guidelines as they do not necessarily cater sufficiently for South African target audiences, particularly those who need them most.