Controlled languages

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Controlled languages (sometimes called controlled natural languages) are subsets of natural languages whose vocabularies and grammars have been restricted in order to reduce or eliminate both ambiguity and complexity. As such, they are often used to designed to simplify technical communications, especially for the benefit of non-native English readers.

Most controlled languages provide a vocabulary of between 800 and 1,000 words. When compared with 171,476 English words listed in the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, this may sound extremely limiting, but in practice it is not. Documentation written in a controlled language can appear perfctly 'normal', and not stilted or clumsy, as one might expect.

Controlled languages are often used to provide an alternative to translation, by virtue of their approach of using words as symbols (that is, a reader may not necessarily know the language in which the documentation is written, but they will soon come to recognize words and their meaning. Paradoxically, the use of a controlled language makes the translation of the document much easier - especially where machine translation is used. For this reason, controlled languages are often prescribed where the document will be subsequently translated, potentially into several languages.

Simplified Technical English (STE)

Simplified Technical English is an implementation of a controlled language based on English. It was originally developed by Dutch aircraft company Fokker, and was subsequently adopted by the European Association of Aerospace Manufacturers (AECMA), which eventually became the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD). ASD published the STE standard as ASD Standard STE100, although today it is maintained by the Simplified Technical English Maintenance Group (STEMG).

Although initially developed for the aerospace industry, STE is now used in other fields of industry (typically commercial and military), primarily for writing equipment maintenance documentation.

The main characteristics of Simplified Technical English are:

  • Simplified grammar and style rules
  • A limited set of (approximately 1000) approved words with restricted meanings
  • A thesaurus of unapproved terms and suggested alternatives
  • Guidelines for adding new technical words to the approved vocabulary

The principal directives of Simplified Technical English are:

  • Use the active voice
  • Use articles wherever possible
  • Use simple verb tenses
  • Use language and terminology consistently
  • Avoid lengthy compound words
  • Use relatively short sentences

Caterpillar Fundamental English (CFE)

Caterpillar Fundamental English (CFE) was developed by the Caterpillar Tractor Company in 1971. The purpose of CFE was to simplify the English-language version of Caterpillar's documentation to the point where non-native English speaking users could read the documents more easily. CFE provides a restricted vocabulary of around 850 words.

International Language for Servicing and Maintenance (ILSAM)

Around 800 words + specific terms

Perkins Approved Clear English (PACE)

PACE guidelines:

  1. Keep sentences short
  2. Omit redundant words
  3. Order the parts of the sentence logically
  4. Don't change constructions mid-sentence
  5. Take care with logic of 'and' and 'or'
  6. Avoid elliptical constructions
  7. Don't omit conjunctions or relatives
  8. Avoid strings of nouns
  9. Do not use gerund unless appears in PACE dictionary
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