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Swedish language

Modern officialese often hard to grasp

Published tisdag 8 maj 2012 kl 11.50
"They often write for themselves"
(3:07 min)
Simpler vocabulary and shorter sentences, but public institutions often use abstract terms that are hard to understand. (Here a screendump of a Government website)

Many of Sweden's government agencies and official bodies have modernized their language in the past few decades – but do Swedes actually understand what they mean?

Sweden's public institutions have modernized their language in the last few decades.

According to Lena Ekberg, the head of the Language Council of Sweden and a professor in Nordic Languages. Official Swedish, language use by public institutions is rapidly changing.

What she calls Official Swedish – that is, the Swedish language used by public institutions and official bodies – is today heavily influenced by management culture and trends from the private sector.

It's just that words such as "communications platform" or "strategic communication" may be difficult to understand.

"The words are easy on the surface, so to speak, but it's a bit difficult to actually understand what they mean on a deeper level," says Lena Nyberg.

"What does this mean in practice? How can you communicate in a 'strategic' way? What does that in fact mean, or what does it mean to be 'professional'," says Lena Nyberg.

Lena Ekberg says that while the vocabulary used by public institutions has become simpler and the sentences shorter, they often use abstract terms that are hard to fully understand.

And imprecise words give way to imprecise answers.

"I have an idea what process-orientation means. I think it's come kind of process," says one passer-by in central Stockholm.

"Who made these words up?" asks another when asked what process-orientation means.

So what effect will this new agency-speak have?

Lena Ekberg government authorities – who serve the public – should be able to describe their activities so that as many as possible can understand what they mean.

"When it comes to how the authorities inform the public about themselves, it's important not to exclude citizens," says Lena Nyberg.

"I think a big part in this is that authorities write for themselves, thought not always of course. But theywrite for their own authority and employees, and to show other authorities that they are modern, have an effective organisation and so on," says Lena Nyberg.

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