Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Four million Australians

apparently have difficulty reading and understanding terms like "hearing protection" and "personal protective equipment". This is according to a report in the state newspaper today. I am not surprised.
Why not use like terms like "ear muffs" and "safety clothing" and "safety gear"? They are much more likely to be read and understood. Add a few pictures and still more people will understand. There will still be people who do not understood even these terms and others who will ignore the need for such safety measures but more people will understand.
I wonder who dreams up the convoluted language used by those who write notices and instructions? Part of the problem is almost certainly the need for 'inclusive' language and a range of other legal requirements which have arisen out of litigation, confusion, and claims of confusion. Some people will simply not want to understand. They do not want to obey instructions. They will, of course, also be the first to claim compensation when injured. They will also get it because their employer will almost certainly be held responsible even if the worker happens to be working alone and far from supervision. Tort law, the law of injury, tends to revolve around the capacity to pay damages not the stupidity of human beings or a requirement for them to be responsible for their own actions.
However perhaps there is another problem. If you can be entertained by the push of a button on a remote device designed to turn on a television set then you may not even be aware of the written word. You may not realise there is a need to read instructions. I know this sounds unlikely but - there are people who simply do not read. They have no need to read. They recognise things but they do not read. They are not aware of a need to read.
They are not illiterate. Put something in front of them and they will read it with varying degrees of competency and comprehension. What they will not do is read something by choice. Why bother? They can push a button and someone else will read to them. They will get news that way - if they want it. They will get information about the football and be able to follow their favourite television programmes. If a programme does not appear then they will 'surf' the channels until they find an alternative. They will not even look up the television programmes to find out what else is there to watch.
I wonder, if all they had to do was push a button, would these people read?


Old Kitty said...

Speaking of convoluted language what about job titles?

Information Advisor = librarian
Waste managemante disposal technician = bin man or woman!

And so on!


Take care

Anonymous said...

I sometimes say 'What's that mean in real Aussie English' to my other half, who spends his working life with that convoluted language, even when I know what he is talking about, just to remind him that there are simpler ways of explaining things.

I can tell a work phone conversation from a personal one in a split second, simply by the language.

Judy B

catdownunder said...

Oh yes, love the job titles!
Part of my job tends to involve translating officialese into Plain English - or there will be plaintive cries of "how do we say this Cat?" and "what shoud I write Cat?"

Holly said...

read? why? much less why would they read directions. Any old bloke should be able to figure it out without directions.....

catdownunder said...

Holly, I didn't think you were so cynical!