Party Politics and the Emperor's New Clothes

In which we finally find that CDA has a practical purpose

August 24, 2013
politics germany

On Twitter I came across a link to the (German) CDU Wahlprogramm in “Leichter Sprache”. This is the conservative party’s election manifesto in a German version of Basic English, to make it more easily comprehensible to people who have difficulty understanding standard German.

At first I thought it was a parody, as it sounded truly ridiculous and patronising. As if you had to explain to your 4-year-old what the world was like. Then I found out about the “Leichte Sprache” (literally: “easy/plain language“), which I had not heard of before. And in principle it is a noble thing to do, to make your manifesto more accessible. I’m sure George Orwell would approve!

But the real reason why it does seem strange is rooted in the nature of political language: normally, language is used to obfuscate and manipulate, especially in complex areas such as politics. Fancy words are used to disguise true intentions and get people to vote for you. But take away the fancy words and complex phrases, and suddenly all is out there in the open, plain to see for everybody. And it turns out to be pretty meaningless. “Everybody should have a good job. And earn enough money. That needs to be written down.” But no mention about minimum wage or anything concrete to turn those vacuous phrases into reality.

Some other people on twitter reacted in the same way as I did; often I guess out of the same ignorance of the “easy language” concept. That’s a shame, but partly rooted in the patronising way the sentences come across. But it also shows that the (undesired) outcome of this publication is that people tend to not take the content seriously. Because there is not much of it.

Critical Discourse Analysis would lose a big part of its subject area if politics would switch wholesale to “easy language”. No more subconscious manipulation between the lines, no more obfuscation about who does what to whom. So after some reflection I applaud the CDU for making their manifesto available in this way, as it unmasks them as the patronising right-wingers they are, with their overly simplistic world view about pretty much any subject area in current politics. No more hiding behind fancy words that foreigners are not welcome. No more vague claims about surveillance cameras stopping crime. It’s all there, in plain language. And other parties seem to have done the same.

Now the only thing that needs to go is the disclaimer at the beginning: that this plain version is not the real manifesto, and only the real one does count. I would prefer it to be the other way round.