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  1. 1


    Hmmm, food for thought. No wonder I am struggling with getting my head around the act – it’s not plain language , just plain boring!

  2. 2


    Stay posted for the next few columns. No promises but I hope to demystify the concepts for you.

  3. 3

    Frances Gordon


    Well done on posting this – it is important to build a good understanding of what plain language is according to South African law.

    I agree with you that the style of Section 22 may be embarressing for us plain-language advocates – very similar text appears in the Companies Act and the National Credit Act. However, the substance is admirable. In fact, this definition (or explanation, if you will) is lauded by plain-language experts as one of the most comprehensive in the world. And many international experts look at it as an excellent example of a definition of plain language.

    Canadian constitutional lawyer, Phil Knight, worked on Section 22. He wrote an article in Clarity (a plain-language legal journal) explaining his thinking. This definition of plain language is purposefully conceptual. It would be wrong for such a legislative definition to be too prescriptive.

    However, I agree that industry has little or no understanding of how to comply. This is not a gap in the legislation, it is a gap in regulation – perhaps a temporary one as the DTI has received a submission on plain-language regulations.

    That said, my greatest fear with these new laws, is not that the regulations are taking too long. It’s that the regulations will be too prescriptive. Plain language is something that is conceptual, and I believe that it should be understood as such.

    A really good conceptual discussion is given in Neville Melville’s book, the Consumer Protection Act Made Easy (even if I say so myself – I co-wrote the chapter).

    I look forward to the next installment; again, congratulations for taking this on as a column,

    Frances (

  4. 4


    If it is all so opaque and mysterious, as you suggest, then how are you going to “demystify” it for us?

    Are you really so much more clever than the rest of us, that only you can decipher it, or did someone give you a magic de-coder ring?

    It’s not rocket science. It just requires text to be understandable to the intended audience, provided they apply a reasonable effort in reading and thinking about the text.

    One could commend that as a step forward in protecting consumers’ interests, reducing the potential for exploitation

    Or, one could belly-ache about the wording, and set oneself up as the all knowing one who alone can explain the mystereies, laying the ground for a new form of exploitation.

    Sad that you seem to have chosen the latter course.

  5. 5

    in other words - Caryn

    Wow, I had no idea a column on something as mundane as plain language could elicit such a strong response.  
    No Phil, I am not cleverer than the rest of you. Few columnists are, nor do we claim to be. What we can do, though, is try to make boring yet important topics accessible to our readers. Most people have no interest in doing the research for themselves so I am prepared to do it, sift it and collate it for them. I also try to present it in a palatable format.  
    It appears you don’t need my assistance so do yourself a favour and please don’t read my next few columns on the subject. 
    And, if you have the magic ring I look forward to reading your pearls of wisdom on the subject. 

  6. 6

    Annetta Cheek

    It is regrettable that the language of the Act is not
    plainer. When we were drafting the Plain Writing Act of 2010 in the US, our very
    plain and clear language was muddled by the archaic drafting conventions of the
    official legislative drafters. As a long-time plain language advocate, I take
    what I can get. Politics is indeed the art of compromise.


    Don’t dismiss the potential this provision has for bringing
    benefits to both consumers and to the government. Of course implementation will
    bring some problems. Plain language can’t be defined too specifically – it is
    communication your intended reader can easily understand and use. Hopefully
    some more guidance or regulation will be forthcoming, but as Frances Gordon
    says, it would be a mistake to make this too prescriptive, since plain language
    varies with the audience.


    Dr. Annetta Cheek


    Center for Plain Language


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