Official Style and Obamacare
In Obamacare, lawmakers lay out the elements of “official style “. It said that style of writing is characterized by passive voice, complex sentences, verbose and jargonistic. As generally, the official style is used by legal and business document, the scientific articles, and the diplomacy. People complain that they cannot totally understand the meaning of text if using official style. As generally, ordinary people will not read these documents which helps readers to sleep unless they have special cause. Although it cannot be completely accepted by the public, it still exists in formal writing. I think, because this style has a definite communication aim and accordingly has its own system of interrelated language and stylistic means. This main aim of this type of communication is to state the conditions binding two parties in undertaking. In other words, it is not for anyone to read.
We view this legal document as an activity system. The lawmakers is the subject of this activity system. What lawmakers write is super formal, which make the readers believe its authority and credibility. In some way, it can reduce questions toward the document, because it is not easy to find out flaws for ordinary people. Therefore, it limits the range of readers to read and explore. Now we discuss what strategies of official style obstruct people to read. Let’s take a look at an excerpt from a section of the patient protection and affordable care act:
“The insurance-related terms described in this paragraph are premium, deductible, co-insurance, co-payment, out-of-pocket limit, preferred provider, non-preferred provider, out-of-network co-payments, UCR (usual, customary and reasonable) fees, excluded services, grievance and appeals, and such other terms as the Secretary determines are important to define so that consumers may compare health insurance coverage and understand the terms of their coverage.”
Except passive voice often used in formal writing, it also uses the strategies of verbose, slow sentences opening, complex sentences, and jargonistic. For passive voice, we see two examples, “terms described in” and “the secretary determines are important”. For verbose, I think, it easily observes that the sentence structure complacent habits of a large, Impersonal, arbitrary bureaucracy. So many compound words make the long sentences that let people think it is really “professional”. For the slow sentences opening, we see that the beginning of sentence is short, having seven words, “the insurance-related terms described in this paragraph”. But the number of words in the whole sentence is fifty-seven. For the jargonistic, I find out a word, like “UCR” which is a term that the certain group people can understand. When I look for the meaning of UCR, I find that UCR has more than twelve translations in Wiki. But within this context, the appropriate definition is “usual, customary and reasonable, a method of generating health care prices.” If it doesn’t mention its meaning behind the word, how many people can understand its specific meaning? It is the exclusive right of experts. It causes difficulties for ordinary people to read. But for some people, such as the lawmakers, the worker of insurance company, it is easy for them to understand, or it is succinct that they might think of.
I think, it is not the fault of official style itself. It is a style of language that is created by society. But people are the practice subject of social activities. So we question that, why people have to use unpopular official style? According to the average reading grade of Americans, it is bond to the reading difficulty of Americans who don’t accept higher education. The official style has a definite communication aim literally and accordingly has its own system of interrelated language and stylistic means. This main aim of this style is to state conditions binding two discourses. Two discourse like the state government and citizens. The purpose of stating conditions is to reach agreement. For example, the Phone Company has contact with users. You have to sign up after reading the conditions. They make a deal with Phone Company. Sometimes, some conditions is a barrier to the non-experts. It leads to a cheat literally. But some people play well this game, they will not be fooled. Therefore, we can see the differences among people, at least you know their education level. We question that, will it become a circle that people who have lower education never understand official style? If so, the using of official style will lead to social inequality. And the inequality mainly reflects on the social class.
The book of the social stratification of English in New York City written by William Labov, has an interesting discovery. The higher socio-economic status position, the higher their pronunciation of retroflex. Similarly, in British English, we can find out more examples to prove the different habit of using words at varying levels. If you cannot understand what others said, as generally people say “sorry”, not “pardon”. Because “pardon” means the forgiveness from upper class to prisoners. The other example is that, the middle class of British people will not say “I go home”, they will say “I go to my house”. So there is the differences between social stratification. I see, the Obama’s speech is not the same thing as the Hillary Clinto’s speech. After all, they represent different social groups in the United States.