the essay by linguist Michele Cortelazzo- time.news

from GIAN ANTONIO STELLA

The obscurity of administrative language is an ancient problem. The volume published by Carocci accuses a jargon that is also an instrument of power

For the incomprehensible skill of lunar technicians we cannot pay the price of a break in the relationship of trust between citizens and the State! Not possible!. 28 years have passed since that 17 June ’93 in which the reading of a demented model 740 sent the then president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro into a rage: The citizen has the right to have a sheet in hand, four pages and four sides with written few things understandable by all! And the government certainly can’t say “the last time”!


Twenty-eight years. For a total of seventeen governments. Yet, accuses Michele Cortelazzo, former dean of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Padua, one of the leading scholars of bureaucratic language, it is easy to verify that in terms of language, not only have no steps forward been made, but a real march has been undertaken backards. But how: if after that outburst of the then head of state the word simplification (with all the variants: simplify, simplified …) combined with the word bureaucracy (and variants) appeared on the Ansa in 2,786 articles! A deluge of reassurances, promises, commitments … True, replies the linguist, author of the essay The administrative language. Principles and practices of modernization (208 pages, Carocci publisher), but the final result is poor. To say the least. Including the last few months.


God, the author remembers, not that the problem is new: gi Ugo Foscolo, in Last letters of Jacopo Ortis (1799), writes that “public acts and laws are written in such a bastard language that the naked sentences seal the ignorance and servitude of those who dictate them” and a few years later, in 1803, Vincenzo Monti, in Prolusion to the studies of the University of Pavia for the year 1804, criticizes “the barbaric dialect miserably introduced in public administrations, where very wretched pens propagate and consecrate all the shame of our language”.

Not to mention how even earlier, in 1540, Benedetto Varchi deplored in the Florentine history the use of a jargon to use rogue language. Specially designed to be understood, manipulated and imposed, to the detriment of citizens, by those who possessed power. Theme resumed in the Corriere in 1992, as proof of how much language had changed over the centuries but remained roguish, by Claudio Magris: The correctness of the language is the premise of moral clarity and honesty. Many rascals and violent prevarications arise when grammar and syntax are messed up and the subject is put in the accusative or the object complement to the nominative, entangling the cards and exchanging roles between victims and offenders, altering the order of things and attributing events to causes or promoters other than actual ones, abolishing distinctions and hierarchies in a swindling heap of concepts and feelings, distorting the truth. The language, summarizes the Paduan linguist, therefore remains one of the forms of power exercised by the administrative class, that is, by the bureaucrats, especially of higher rank, towards the citizen. A power that is even self-defeating when it accepts to pay the price of its communication incapacity by being besieged by those who are forced to turn to public offices several times for clarification.

Write in the words that the citizen, even the educated one, would use explains the scholar, quoting Italo Calvino and Antonio Gramsci, to many bureaucrats it seems to lower themselves to a level that is not in keeping with the dignity and decorum of the institution for which they are writing and to be satisfied with an expressive tool that limits the authority of their writings. It is also surprising that in the United States the movement for the plain language (i.e. a clear, simple, concise language) arose about fifty years ago as a consumer movement and if in the United Kingdom active since 1979 a group, the Plain Language Campaign, which until today has rewritten in a clearer, verified and accredited with a special brand, the Crystal Mark, 23,000 texts? Perhaps this bureaucracy of ours does not deserve one class action, a collective damage claim against the abuse of surreal art. 2790-vicies sexies?

Delusions make you dizzy. The obsessive calls: aforementioned, above, mentioned above, aforementioned, aforementioned, described above, above attached, above listed, above, above … The abbreviations: oiv (independent assessment body), par (regional implementation plan), pat (territorial planning plan), pof (training offer plan), pua (implementation urban plan), puc (projects useful to the community), pza (acoustic zoning plan), rup (sole responsible for the procedure), suap (one-stop shop for productive activities) … abbreviations: This verification of eligibility to vas, drawn up in accordance with the procedure provided for by art. 4 of Regional Law 16/2008 and of art. 12 of Legislative Decree 152/2006 and subsequent amendments, concerns the variant 48 to the prgc….

Of course, the linguist acknowledges, there are those who have tried to change that language. Among others Sabino Cassese, who first as a scholar and then as a minister attempted to introduce a real simplification of the bureaucratese. To the point of launching in 1993 a Style code and ask chosen programmers for software that would encourage public employees to write the word stamp and not stamp, train ticket not travel ticket and so on. The results of every effort, minister after minister, are plain to see.

indeed, it gradually took over, despite precious signs of collaboration with Crusca, a sort of resignation to the impossibility of seriously undermining the bureaucratic monolith. There is, for Michele Cortelazzo, a formal signal that accurately indicates this retreat. The launch, in April 2013, Minister Filippo Patroni Griffi, of a new version of the Code of Conduct for civil servants where the norm, present in the previous one, was canceled, which required them to adopt a clear and understandable language in written texts and in all other communications. A humiliating surrender. After all, as the honorary president of the Accademia della Crusca Francesco Sabatini noted, the linguist’s accusation continues, the law delegating to the government of 7 August 2015 provides that in public administration competitions the “knowledge of the English language and of other languages ​​”(sacrosanct thing), but not the command of the Italian language, oral and written, to the extent appropriate to the level of responsibility to which one aspires. Congratulations.

But it is possible that, among so many problems, contradictions, snares and snares can the gigantic convoy of the PNRR march on the right tracks? Well …, Cortelazzo sighs: The NRR declares that “the government intends to implement four important contextual reforms, public administration, justice, simplification of legislation and promotion of competition”. At least the first three, for their effective implementation, would require a decisive intervention to simplify the language. But all three, on the contrary, collide with the inability of the operators themselves to simplify: that is their language. Their labyrinth. Their fort.

July 24, 2021 (change July 24, 2021 | 21:36)

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