Controlled English

Subject: Controlled English
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Tue, 19 May 1998 15:12:18 +0800

As I understand it, Controlled or Simplified English (are they the
same?) means slightly more than just a cut-down set of words without
ambiguous terms.

There is a basic vocabulary of general English. I think it's typically
300 - 600 words. There is also usually an additional technical
dictionary, containing words that may be anything but simple, but
which are required for the tasks being described.

For example, a hypothetical Controlled English vocabulary for Interocetor
repair technicians might comprise 300 general English words, plus 300
more terms related to Interocetor part names, control labels, and
maintenance operations. Example:

"Rotate the grommet infibulator cuff one half turn to the right."

The words grommet, infibulator and cuff would be in the technical
dictionary. All the other words should be in the general dictionary.

This setup would be useful to assist translation into other languages.
Translate the dictionaries once into each target language, and you done
a lot of the work towards translating each instruction manual.

It's not just for non-English readers though. If the instructions are
accurate and clear enough to be usable in other languages, they should
also be useful for technicians with limited written-English skills --
ESLers, former lawyers, dyslexia sufferers.

Michael Burke <miburke -at- WSICORP -dot- COM> said:
> Hmmm. Sounds a little like Newspeak....

Well, sort of, but for a different purpose. Newspeak was a controlled
vocabulary intended literally to stop proles thinking bad thoughts,
by removing words they would need to pursue abstract reasoning. The
idea was that proles would have no other language except Newspeak.

Controlled English is generally meant for people who read and
understand their own language perfectly well. Mostly they won't see
these English words. They will see instructions written in their own
language -- just clearer and better translated than might have been the
case otherwise.

And they are completely free to think bad thoughts about us clumsy
technical writers and translators if we fail to provide them with
good, clear instructions.

Stuart Burnfield
Ministry of Documentation
Functional Software Pty Ltd
mailto:slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au

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