Plain language in the 19th century

Thanks to the estimable Frédéric Houbert @FHoubert, let me share with you a jewel from the French national library: “Discours sur les vices du langage judiciaire” by M. Berriat Saint-Prix, read on 24 August 1807 and published 1809, in which a law professor sets out central questions about plain language with elegance and clarity.

These questions cover the following areas:

  1. Est-il possible d’avoir de la correction dans les divers ouvrages dont s’occupent les gens de loi ?
  2. Quelles sont les causes de l’incorrection ancienne et actuelle ?
  3. Quels sont les moyens de régénérer entièrement la langue judiciaire ?

The list of ten main types of error (pages 8-9, with examples on pages 10-33) is just as pertinent today. Showing that not much progress has been made…

Also of much interest to me was the author’s classification of legal genres: “les lois, les jugemen[t]s, les plaidoyers, les consultations, les actes de procédure judiciaire et les actes de procédure extra-judiciaire“.

You can find the full text here, free access, on Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and its partners. Online since 1997, thousands of new texts are added each week, and it now offers access to several million documents.

Also see Frédéric’s crisp analysis of the text on his LinkedIn profile here.

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