33(1) - 2021

„Inhalt des Originalsatzes unklar…“ Verständlichkeit und Vereinfachung von Schweizer Verwaltungstexten: Eine empirische Untersuchung im Kontext der Mehrsprachigkeit

Cornelia Griebel & Annarita Felici

‘Content of the original sentence unclear…’ Comprehensibility and simplification of Swiss administrative texts: An empirical investigation in the context of multilingualism

Switzerland is particularly sensitive to issues of accessible communication and strives for institutional transparency and citizen inclusion. Since most of the drafting takes place in German and the texts are later translated into French and Italian, language clarity is further at the stake because of interlingual translation. Moving from the Swiss multilingual context, we explored the accessibility of Swiss insurance leaflets in three languages (French, German, Italian). After a preliminary classification of the main linguistic difficulties (Griebel & Felici, 2018, Felici & Griebel, 2019), we tested language accessibility by the mean of crowdsourcing and other volunteers. Drawing from Höfler’s experiment on prima vista comprehensibility and its subsequent application (Höfler et al., 2017), we asked the participants to evaluate the overall comprehensibility of some sentences and then to simplify them with some basic plain language rules. The main goal was to assess whether laypersons are aware of lexical and syntactical complexities and to what extent they are able to simplify administrative texts. Despite the presence of quite complex terminology, syntax was considered in the three languages as the main source of difficulty. The results also highlighted that the perceived comprehensibility is higher than the actual one, which is more in line with our linguistic analysis. In fact, the simplification test showed that the sentences were not understood correctly by a relatively large number of people. This confirms that the simplification of administrative texts puts great demands on the possibilities and limits of reducing complexity, thus requiring cooperation between inhouse administrative and external language experts.

Accessible communication, administrative language, plain language, simplification, Switzerland

DOI 10.17462/para.2021.01.09

April 25, 2021
  33(1) - 2021