John Linnegar of McGillivrayLinnegarAssociates chose the winning entry of TheMediaOnline’s Plain Language competition. SONIA MATHER will join him on one of the courses he runs early next year.
“In my book, Sonia Mather wins by a neck from Tiffany Markham, with Irene Pilavachi third,” Linnegar said on announcing the results. “Thanks once again for enabling me to participate in this laudable event – I hope it will become a regular one that raises awareness of the need for Plain Language and the difficulties with using it.”
Linnegar believes more working editors and proofreaders should take advantage of the concept of Lifelong Learning, and that publications should “train and retrain” staff and freelancers so as to elevate the standard of sub editing and proofreading in SA.
The standard, he says, is “variable/uneven. It depends largely upon the publisher, their level of professionalism and whether they set great store by attention to detail. The more professional commercial publishers of magazines demand subbing and proofreading of a very high standard. Also, entries in competitions such as the PICA Awards are adjudged inter alia on the creativity and appearance of the finished product once it has been subbed and proofread. So there’s another incentive to produce publications of quality to crow about.”
Linnegar says in terms of the “quality of the language/text, native speakers of Afrikaans and English tend to publish better-quality magazines because of their superior because they’re in command of the language of the medium. The language level of text written by non-native speakers is somewhere around standard to substandard.
Allied to this problem is the lack of training offered to would-be or practising subeditors and proofreaders in their specific skills.
“Ultimately, however, it’s the SA education system that is responsible for the poor standards of writing and journalism,” Linnegar told TheMediaOnline. On the job training could help the standard of journalism, he says. “Though such training can help them to write better (and therefore probably need less subbing), I believe it should be left to specialists.”
Online publishing has brought its own set of challenges. “Getting practitioners to unlearn all they know about the print environment and to think digital or online when they’re working on online/web-based text and layouts is a challenge,” says Linnegar. “The constraints of the medium – eg the way readers skim read online text as opposed to reading printed text in detail. Getting the structure of a digital publication finalised at writing stage, not later.”
Plain language, of course, is a key part of the training McGillivrayLinnegarAssociates offer, and a subject close to the heart of TheMediaOnline. We asked Linnegar how he sees the development of a plain language ethos taking hold in South Africa.
“Very gradually. There seems to be more lip service and less genuine commitment to PL here. For example, in many cases lawyers are being entrusted with the conversion of contracts, etc to plain language, and language practitioners are, by and large, being left out in the cold,” he says. “Ideally, the process should involve both linguists and lawyers if the conversion is to reflect the letter of the CPA. Otherwise, in passing the CPA and related legislation, SA has been progressive.”
Where are we in terms of international benchmarking on the plain language issue? “It’s hard to say. On the one hand, we’re represented on the international PL body, and quite influential there, but whether we’re up there with the best of them is difficult to say. One would have to consult the experts in this field.”