The plain English movement in legal writing and its (dis)advantages for non-native speakers of English. Theoretical background and survey results


Słowa kluczowe:

plain English movement, legal English, legal writing, legal translation


Th e objective of this paper is to discuss the theoretical background behind
the simplifi cation of legal English, and to present current tendencies based on the conducted
Section 2 provides a brief overview of the plain English movement in general, including
the analysis of the views of prominent English writers and linguists, such as G. Orwell
and E. Gowers. Th en, Section 3 off ers a more specialist approach to the movement
within the fi eld of professional legal writing. A special focus is placed on the limitations
of plain English when it is applied within communication involving L2 speakers of English.
Finally, Section 4 discusses the results of the survey conducted on persons with a legal
background and laypersons. Th e work ends with conclusions on the use of simplifi ed
legal English in professional contexts (including, in particular, specialised translation).
Plain English may be a valid alternative for formalised jargon wherever it is possible
to apply it without a loss of precision. In many cases, the use of formal legal English is
caused rather by aesthetical or historical reasons, not by a real necessity. Th erefore, it
would be feasible to replace it in communication with clients and citizens for the sake
of clarity. However, several reservations have to be made. Firstly, certain elements of
“plain” English are not, in fact, plain for those who are not native speakers. A good
example of that are phrasal verbs, which constitute a diffi cult part of the language for
foreigners (as shown in the survey results). Secondly, certain elements of legal English
are already so widely recognised, that it may be not particularly reasonable to replace
them. Th erefore, the plain English movement should incorporate a broader linguistic
context and look for solutions that are useful not only to L1 speakers of English but also
to L2 speakers.