John Smith wrote to me. I wrote back. Now that's plain English on purpose, and it is probably also Basic English by accident.
I have discovered that words promoted by the Plain English movement frequently result in the loss of history and culture, meaning, clarity, and conciseness. For example: combine becomes mix; compile becomes ‘make’ or ‘collect’; consult becomes ‘talk to’, meet, or ask (The Plain English Campaign, 2001). These are not accurate meanings of the words. Correct becomes ‘put right’; and cumulative becomes ‘added up’ or ‘added together’. These examples demonstrates lost conciseness.
Before long we will be speaking in grunts.
The A-Z of alternative words, Plain English Campaign. (2001). (PDF, 177KB)
Retrieved 6 September, 2012, from http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/files/alternative.pdf
P.S. By the way, I actually despise some forms of non-plain English, especially legalese.
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Thanks for contacting me.
I think some people confuse plain (= clear and precise) English with Basic (= minimal, often informal) English. Basic English commits exactly the sins you describe.
I am not a fan of Basic English, which advocates a vocabulary of 850 words. In my opinion this restricted vocabulary inevitably creates confusion—so I agree with you.
The Plain English Campaign A–Z of Alternative Words is an enlightening and useful resource, but of course you need to use your discretion when deciding which words to simplify, and how. Context matters!
English glories in idiomatic phrases. English can juggle a few hundred very short multi-purpose words to create thousands of meanings. Paradoxically, those miniwords in phrases are probably the most difficult words for non-native English speakers to use correctly or to understand.
Go on? Get on? Get along? Go over? Go on in? Get to that? Give me a break!
Two-syllable words are likely to have a more precise meaning than the basic words you itemise. For people who use English as an additional language or a foreign language, phrasal verbs such as 'add up' or 'talk to' are notoriously confusing. Entire bilingual dictionaries are dedicated to phrasal verbs, and the problems can often be avoided by using a longer, one-word verb. Example: 'construct' instead of 'put up'.
We all want the same thing: clarity and conciseness. But we follow different paths.
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