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Plain English for a Dutch Audience: Comprehension and Preference

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We carried out a comprehension study in the Netherlands of words discouraged by the Plain English Movement (PEM) and those recommended by the movement’s institutions. In our study, we restricted ourselves to the guidelines of one of these institutions, namely the Plain English Campaign (PEC). As the Dutch are familiar with British spellings, terminology, and linguistic usage, it seemed to us it would make sense to select PEM guidelines that are predominantly based on British English.

The research questions we wished to address in our research were the following:
  1. Are words that are considered to be difficult for native speakers of English also considered to be difficult by native speakers of Dutch?
  2. Do native speakers of Dutch comprehend words discouraged by the PEC less well than words recommended by the PEC?
  3. Do native speakers of Dutch prefer words discouraged by the PEC or words recommended by the PEC?

Research questions 2 and 3 were our main research questions, but we wanted to get an answer to research question 1 too. If, after all, the words discouraged by PEC were not considered to be difficult by speakers of Dutch—because they resemble words in Dutch, for instance—there would be no need for us to examine the second research question. We examined this first question by way of a small-scale preliminary study and the two main research questions by means of an experiment. In this article we first describe the design and the results of the preliminary study before moving on to the design and the results of the experiment we performed to answer the two main research questions.
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Document Type: Journal Article

Publication date: 01 August 2007

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