A prescriptive language?

Subject: A prescriptive language?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Rob Tovey <robtovey -at- hotmail -dot- co -dot- uk>
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 12:07:46 -0500

Rob Tovey wonders: <<Does communication design use a restricted language?>>

Depends entirely on how narrowly you're defining "restricted". The reductio ad absurdum is that if you're using a standard dictionary, then you are using a restricted (but not "very" <g>) language. The other extreme might be something like the AECMA simplified English (http://www.simplifiedenglish-aecma.org/Simplified_English.htm) vocabulary, which is quite tightly constrained.

Careful with your use of jargon in framing questions! Jargon only works well if everyone shares your vocabulary. If you're writing for a different discourse community <g>, you need to define your terms.

<<In terms of semiotics, does this type of design use a very particular paradigm that can be prescriptive?>>

Any form of technical writing uses a form of prescriptive semiotics in the sense that we tend to restrict our freedom to use synonyms, tend to identify functional words such as menu choices and button names using formatting (e.g., italics, keycaps fonts) or other devices, and follow certain stereotyped "best practices" for grammar (e.g., active or imperative voice).

So again, define how narrowly you're using "prescriptive". This distinction can be as simplistic as saying you use a prescriptive dictionary such as some Webster's volumes or a descriptive one such as American Heritage or something much more highbrow.

<<Is there a Modernist mindset that's defined by an idea of the "best" way to communicate?>>

Again, define "Modernist" (as opposed to pomo?) and "best" way. As professional communicators, we all clearly aim to communicate as clearly as we possibly can, and that's the tautological "best way".

<<Should communication design forget a universal, global approach and instead target niche groups, using niche language?>>

The current mindset is that we should strive to understand each unique audience (technical vs. non, academic vs. non, expert vs. non) sufficiently well that we can pick a form of communication (i.e., design the communication) to optimally meet their needs. Similarly, translators recognize that because of the wide variety of local dialects of any language, it's preferable (and often necessary) to localize a translation to use appropriate language for each dialect.

For some situations, however, such as the 5-million-volume <g> set of maintenance and operating instructions for a modern aircraft, neither of these approaches is an option, so something like the AECMA simplified English approach is necessary. The ideal might be instantaneous and perfect translation and localization into each of (potentially) hundreds of dialects; the reality is that this won't be happening anytime soon, and something like simplified English is a reasonable solution.

<<If you look at certain leading KD furniture manufacturers, although their consumers are different, the instructions are of an identical format.>>

Not familiar with KD, but I assume you mean the approach used by Ikea? Again, you need to define what you mean "format": Do you mean the visual presentation (e.g., text-free illustration, thus visual semiotics) or linguistic presentation (i.e., textual semiotics)? And you need to consider what the goal of this effort is: To cheap out and avoid translation costs, or to design something that communicates so well in visual symbols that no words are required?

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
www.geoff-hart.com
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References:
A prescriptive language?: From: Rob Tovey

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