VCE English Language - Clarity, Expertise & Authority

March 28, 2021Klein E

In my last post, I briefly looked at how formal language can be confusing and manipulative. In my next post, I will look at political correctness, but in today's today's I want to briefly look at clarity - and how formal language can, therefore, elevate an author's credibility and expertise.

You’ll often find that formal language is used mainly in written texts to be clear (i.e. less ambiguous) or, on the other end of the spectrum, to obfuscate or manipulate (i.e. confuse). Make sure you identify this correctly in any formal piece you’re given.

Clarification, Expertise & Authority

One of the main functions of formal language is to inform clearly and without ambiguity. For example, in my online posts, I often use an immense amount of jargon because of its ability to facilitate precise and economic communication. However, for the jargon to be understood, there is a level of prior knowledge that must be brought to the workshop, so the comprehensibility of jargon is largely predicated on the context. In addition, jargon can be used to display a high of expertise and authority.

Furthermore, elevated lexis (often of French/Latin origin) can be used to elevate an author’s credibility and authority. For example, compare the following three pairs:

Commence Begin
Retain Keep
Give up (phrasal verb) Quit

Out of the three pairs above (going horizontal for each pair), which is formal and which is informal? For example, the first pair (commence vs begin) - 'commence' comes from French (commencer) and 'begin' comes from German (beginnen). If you studied the Norman invasion of 1066 from Unit 2, you will recall that the Norman French brought in an immense amount of lexemes into the language, and in many ways devalued the Germanic equivalents.

When used appropriately, the ‘French or Latin’ equivalent will allow you to heighten your expertise and credibility - giving it a particularly academic tone. Think of an essay you write during a SAC - you’ll always aim for the formal equivalent (remember how your teacher says to avoid colloquialisms?).

Moreover, formal language can also prevent readers from taking advantage of any possible loopholes in a legal document (e.g. terms and conditions). Oftentimes, legal documents will make use of what is known as lexical density. The more lexically dense a text is, the more information it will provide to the audience. For example:

‘If you are not the intended recipient (or responsible for delivery of the message to such person), you may not use, copy, distribute or deliver to anyone this message (or any part of its contents ) or take any action in reliance on it.’

Note: this is just one part of the formal language!

In the next article that I will publish to students, I will look at the other forms of formal language - saving face and political correctness.

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Klein E

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