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Italy Declares War on Officialese
Vows to Simplify Bureaucratic Communication
 Join the Discussion
"Project aims to rid the language used in bureaucratic texts of confusing terms."
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Italy, the land of Dante, has declared war on officialese, vowing to simplify the way the state communicates with its citizens.

"This is a cultural revolution in our relationship with citizens," Civil Service Minister Franco Frattini told a recent news conference to unveil a project to make bureaucratic language understandable. In an 8-page directive titled Direttiva sulla semplificazione del linguaggio dei testi amministrativi, the Minister specified a series of linguistic reforms resembling a grade–school teacher's tutorials (write brief phrases, use technical terms sparingly, use abbreviations and acronyms infrequently, be sure capitalization and punctuation is coherent).

The project, called "Chiaro! Progetto per semplificare il linguaggio amministrativo" (Clear! The project for simplifying bureaucratic language), aims to rid the language used in bureaucratic texts of complex clauses and confusing terms. One "before and after" example given at the news conference:

Before: L'Ufficio Trattamento Economico in indirizzo, cesserà la corresponsione degli emolumenti a decorrere dal 1º maggio 2001. "The aforementioned office for economic treatment will cease the distribution of monies commencing from May 1, 2001."

After: Dal 1 maggio 2001 il nostro Ufficio sospenderà i pagamenti. "Our office will stop payments as of May 1, 2001."

Stamp Out Linguaggio Burocratico
Streamlining the language of government and official documents is easier said than done. Frattini's effort is only the latest in a series of attempts over the years to simplify the language of bureaucracy. While Italians were keeping their fingers crossed it would succeed, Frattini acknowledged it would be an uphill struggle.

Chiaro! He said many existing government texts would be changed into more simple language but the hardest part would be to teach old dogs new tricks.

"It would be useless to translate the documents and not train personnel to stop using ancient, incomprehensible language," he said.

Frattini said ministries would be encouraged to compete for a "Chiaro!" stamp, which would be awarded only to departments and ministries that wrote simply.

"After this stamp is put on a document we defy the most critical of readers to find something incomprehensible," he said.

The primary goals of Progetto Chiaro! are to 1) collaborate with government administrative offices to render communication more effectively with citizens and 2) encourage citizens to inform and suggestion ways to simplify their missives. According to the Dipartimento per la Funzione pubblica, the principal characteristics of il linguaggio burocratico are complexity, obscurity, formality, and the use of jargon. As part of the project to simplify communication, Project Chiaro! has published several online resources, including a manuale di stile (style manual), a glossario (glossary), and examples of simplified documents.

Professor Alfredo Fioritto, who heads a task force of legal experts and linguists, admitted it was going to be tough.

"There are hundreds of years of tradition to destroy, today the government speaks like it did in the nineteenth century," he said. "Simplifying language is very difficult. It means you have to know what you are talking about."

Should Italy Outlaw English Phrases?
Are English phrases another example of American cultural imperialism, or merely the natural evolution of the Italian language? Cast your vote! and post your comments on the Italian Language Bulletin Board.


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