The “Unknown Unknowns” of Plain English

| December 31, 2004
The “Unknown Unknowns” of Plain English

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Roger Nunn
University of Reading, UK

Bio Data
Dr. Roger Nunn has been a language teacher for over 28 years in six different countries, including more than 20 years in Asia. He has a Trinity College TEFL diploma, an MA and Ph.D. in TEFL from the University of Reading, UK. Dr. Nunn’s Ph.D. study was on teaching methodology and curriculum development across cultural boundaries. He has a broad range of publications on a wide range of topics and is particularly interested in international perspectives on EFL teaching.

Dr. Roger Nunn considers the pragmatic implications of some of the double speak that politicians enter into. He considers Donald Rumsfeld’s “Plain English Campaign” ‘Foot in the Mouth’ Award, for his now notorious statement on “known, knowns” and “unknown, unknowns”. The “plain” English of modern news media has a worrying capacity for keeping us in the dark; which is reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. For Orwell, the natural partner of Newspeak was Doublethink.
The Orwellian example of Doublethink best suited to this paper is perhaps, “Ignorance is strength”, although some might prefer “War is peace”. Professor Nunn also considers the complexity of academic jargon in relation to ‘plain English’.

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