Transcript S2E9: Corporate Code
Here is the transcript of S2E9: Corporate Code. You can read more about this episode on the episode web page.
This transcript has been edited for readability.
LG = Luke Green
MD = Martin Dunkl
LG: Companies and organisations have different ways of establishing their brand and communicating it successfully. You might think of a logo, brand colours, a jingle or a slogan. But the way a company uses language in their everyday writing is also a big opportunity to strengthen their brand. Their writing needs to be understandable, it needs to speak to its audience, and it needs to be recognisable as coming from that company.
In today’s episode we’ll be talking about Corporate Code, with a special focus on German. We’ll hear about ways you can make a text more understandable to readers, the effect of using dialect in corporate language, and how a company’s language can be used to build its brand and identity.
But just a quick note before we get into things. You will hear a lot of phrases like “you must write it like this” or “you have to do that”, and there’ll be some rules and imperatives. Please understand these as being recommendations, it’s not the be all and end all. It’s just to achieve a certain linguistic goal, there are certain things you can do and certain ways you can do things. Also as always, the opinions and recommendations you’ll hear in this episode are those of that speaker only. So with all that being said, let’s crack on with the show.
This is Yellow of the Egg, the podcast where we write the German language a strongly worded letter. I’m Luke Green and this is series 2 episode 9, “Corporate Code”.
MD: Companies and also organisations need to be recognised by their target groups, by their addressees, their clients. Logos make products recognisable. Linguistic style does the same. Corporate Code makes products and services recognisable. Corporate Code is written and spoken identity. So the corporate identity is expressed by words, by text. Like the logo or the brand colours, language expresses the corporate identity.
LG: This is Martin Dunkl, a public relations consultant who specialises in corporate identity. He is also an advisory member of the Austrian Association for Legal Linguistics. He’s worked with a number of high-profile clients developing their corporate identity through language and style, what he refers to as Corporate Code.
MD: The language of a company or an organisation often comes out just by chance. Every employee has its personal style. Corporate Code is strategically planned and implemented. Corporate Code is used for every external and internal communication. It’s used in letters, emails, contracts, user manuals, reports, public relation texts, and many others.
LG: Essentially all language output a company produces. Well, almost all of it.
MD: Advertisements I would exclude a little bit. Because there is more liberty. Advertising campaigns must react quickly and be very creative.
LG: But putting advertising aside, the way in which a company would use language internally, so with its employees, as well as with clients and customers, would fall under the scope of Corporate Code. If done well and consistently, the company’s language output can be used to build and strengthen the identity of the brand or organisation. Summed up in one sentence:
MD: Corporate Code is branded corporate language.
LG: We’ll hear some examples of this a little later on. But before we do, let’s go a little bit into what makes Corporate Code. We can understand it to consist of different elements.
MD: Corporate Code focuses on three pillars, on three items. Comprehensibility, receiver orientation, and recognisability.
LG: In German, these pillars are called Verständlichkeit, that’s comprehensibility; Empfängerorientierung, that’s receiver orientation; and Erkennbarkeit, that’s recognisability. So according to this model, a company’s language output should be understandable, centred around the audience, and distinctly recognisable as belonging to the company. All three of these aspects are important, but one is undeniably the most crucial.
MD: So, comprehensibility is really the first – we have three pillars. And the comprehensibility is number one. It’s the most important feature of understandable communication. The comprehensibility means that a text must be understandable for normally educated people. You shouldn’t have to read a sentence twice to understand it, as it’s very often the case in technical language or in laws.
LG: We heard in a previous episode that German can be tough to understand at the best of times, and in contexts such as the law, there is a tendency towards even more complicated sentences, especially in German.
MD: German is definitely less comprehensible. That belongs to the semantics, they are more complicated. In German you have too many possibilities where to put the object and the subject. And other languages like English are much more strict and don’t give you all these possibilities.
LG: But surely the question of comprehensibility in general applies differently from person to person. Who am I to judge whether a text is incomprehensible for everyone?
MD: Comprehensibility can be measured. For example, in the Hamburger Verständlichkeitsindex, there are a lot of algorithms judging or counting the comprehensibility of a text.
LG: There are multiple models and measures for comprehensibility, such as the Hamburger Verständlichkeitsmodell. This model grades texts according to their simplicity, structure, conciseness and features that keep the reader’s attention. There are also programmes such as the Hohenheimer Verständlichkeitsindex that measure the comprehensibility of a text.
MD: It’s a software. It’s like Word, Microsoft Word. You fill in your text, and the software shows you phrases which are too long, expressions which are old-fashioned, and this Hamburger Verständlichkeitsindex measures forty different items of language. It’s an automatic process, and you can make a benchmark and say, “we want a grade of comprehensibility, a certain grade, and every employee has to reach this comprehensibility”.
LG: The road to achieving comprehensible language isn’t necessarily a simple one, there’s a lot to consider. Martin identifies some basic rules that one can follow in order to create texts that are easily understandable, and while they don’t just apply to German, they are especially useful for German texts. German is very famous for its long and complicated sentences, so the first rule of comprehensibility is absolutely critical.
MD: The most important rule of comprehensibility is short, simple sentences. That means if you have one information, one topic, that should be one sentence. Don’t put more topics into one sentence. Poets, creative writers, they can manage this problem. They can put a lot of items in one phrase. Like Thomas Mann, he had phrases over all one page in his Roman, in his book. But a creative writer takes a lot of time to write. It’s his job. The creative writer has the time to think about: “How can I put many topics in one sentence and you can understand it?” So even if the texts of a creative writer are very very long, is very very long, it can be comprehensible. But normal employees do not have the time. So it’s easier with this rule to say “if I have one topic, I make one sentence”. I’ll give you an example. Here I give you a sentence with two items. Sie können, da die Frist vorüber ist, nicht stornieren.
LG: This translates into English as: ‘You cannot cancel because the deadline has passed’.
MD: You have two informations in this phrase. First, there is a deadline, and the second information, you cannot cancel. So if you make short simple sentences, it would say not Sie können, da die Frist vorüber ist, nicht stornieren, it would mean Die Frist ist vorüber. Point. Sie können nicht stornieren. Certainly my example is very short, and it would not be necessary to separate this example in two sentences. It’s a little ridiculous. But if I take a really long phrase here in this podcast, nobody would understand it in the end, so I decided to take a very simple example.
LG: Even if this example sentence is still relatively short, it’s still packaged in a way that could be simplified. In German you can put subordinate clauses all over the place with much more flexibility than, say, in English. In the sentence Sie können, da die Frist vorüber ist, nicht stornieren would actually translate more directly to something like ‘you can, because the deadline has passed, not cancel’. If you put the subordinate clause at the end, you already make the sentence easier to digest, you’re left with Sie können nicht stornieren, da die Frist vorüber ist. But comprehensibility isn’t just relevant on the sentence level. We can also look at the types of words that are used, or more specifically, the word class.
MD: Yeah. The second rule of comprehensibility is also very important. It’s writing to avoid the nominal style.
LG: The nominal style being when you tend to use more nouns rather than verb phrases.
MD: Nominal style is typically for technical language. Because a Nomen is used in technical language to describe a very complex thing. A machine or a disease or a law process. And if you take a Nomen…
LG: Nomen is the German word for ‘noun’, by the way.
MD: …then that expresses always a very complex, big affair. But it’s, for not technical specialists, hard to understand. Very often in texts, we use nominal style there where it is not necessary. So nominal style is necessary to express a complex thing, but verbal style is easier to understand.
LG: Sometimes it’s preferable or even unavoidable to use a noun when it comes to technical terms, but sometimes you can get around it.
MD: I’ll give you a good example. German: Die Verarbeitung Ihrer Daten geschieht zur Vertragserfüllung. You have two Nomen: Verarbeitung and Vertragserfüllung. And in English this phrase would be: ‘The processing of your data is done for the performance of the contract’. Verarbeitung is not a technical term. It must be changed into the verbal style verarbeiten. Vertragserfüllung is a technical term, and this can persist. So in verbal style I would say: Wir verarbeiten Ihrer Daten zur Vertragserfüllung. You see? So I avoided the first Nomen, Verarbeitung, I translated it in the verb verarbeiten. But I left Vertragserfüllung, because Vertragserfüllung is a very specific term which can stay. If it is hard to understand for outsiders, in brackets I can explain what it mean.
LG: The same can be done in English, and you can hear the difference between the two versions.
MD: So the nominal style would be The processing of your data is done for the performance of the contract, and the verbal style would say We process your data to fulfil the contract.
LG: The latter sentence, the one using the verb phrase as opposed to the noun phrase, is much more easily digestible and is a lot clearer for listeners. Even if the information is essentially the same, it’s just packaged in a way that allows us to follow it more easily. The third rule of comprehensibility is also about how the information in a sentence is packaged.
MD: Yes. Third rule is the active instead of passive style. And also the active style is clearer than the passive style. The example passive form would be: Mängel werden vom Käufer bekanntgegeben, which means ‘Defects are announced by the buyer’. Active, you would say: Der Käufer gibt Mängel bekannt. So in English, ‘The buyer announces defects’.
LG: It’s a small difference, but sticking to active sentences has some desirable effects. It can make the sentence shorter, and it uses a sentence structure that people are more used to using and hearing on an everyday basis. We also can’t forget that in German, the passive voice is usually a trigger for the main, lexical verb to be thrown to the end of the sentence. Compare for instance Wir liefern Ihr Paket morgen zwischen 9 und 18 Uhr, with liefern near the beginning of the sentence, and then Ihr Paket wird morgen zwischen 9 und 18 Uhr geliefert, with the verb at the end. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s something to consider if you want to keep the verb near the beginning. In saying all this, just like there is a reason for big, technical nouns to exist, passive sentences do have a purpose, and it’s not to say they should be avoided altogether.
MD: Authorities, for example, need passive style to protect their officers. Officers are not personally responsible for orders they issue. So if you write the passive style, you avoid to name the person. It stays hidden.
LG: Which can be just what you want if you don’t know or don’t want to pin down the agent. At the same time, it does take away this personal touch. You make it a thing that just happens rather than an action on the part of the company.
MD: You take out the responsibility. That derives also from psychotherapy. In psychotherapy they say also that if a client speaks too much in passive style, and not in the form of “I”, in active style, he does not want the therapy really. The patient shows that he wants to change his life in choosing active style. So the active style is more positive and optimistic. And on the other hand, the passive style is necessary for the anonymity of authorities. So if you write to much passive style, it gives you also an authority image, a very strict image. Not very personal.
LG: One more rule that we’ll mention here also has to do with keeping things short. It’s about getting rid of unnecessary words in your texts. People learn certain phrases or formulations that are more complicated than they need to be. This rule is about avoiding duplications and meaningless words which only really serve to puff out the sentence, even making it sound more pompous in some cases.
MD: So in German we say aufgeblasen, ‘blown up’, sentences. For example, im hier vorliegenden Fall. That’s not necessary to [say] im hier vorliegenden Fall. You can say in diesem Fall. Or bei den derzeit herrschenden Witterungsverhältnissen. You can say bei der derzeitigen Witterung. So that makes texts much more comprehensible if you avoid meaningless words.
LG: There are some other rules of comprehensibility that we won’t go into now, I’ll link to Martin’s resources and books in the shownotes if you’re interested in reading more. For now, let’s look at the second of the three pillars of Corporate Code, another principle of building effective corporate language use: Empfängerorientierung.
MD: The Empfängerorientierung is the receiver orientation. And the receiver orientation is also based on psychotherapy, on the personenzentrierte Gesprächstherapie, so this is the person-centred talk therapy by Carl Ransom Rogers in the 40s. He said that it’s very important to see an affair, to see a disease, or to see a thing, with the eyes of the addressee. To put yourself into the other. Receiver orientation means to focus on the receiver. Don’t put yourself at the centre. Put yourself in the position of your counterpart and describe things with his words. Rogers talked about paraphrases. He said that when the client says: “I didn’t sleep well this night”, the therapist should repeat, “aha, you didn’t sleep well this night”. And you can use this in Corporate Code. In repeating what the other has written you, you show, you demonstrate to the other, “I have understood you, I understand you”. So receiver orientation is a consequent thinking, “how will my addressee react when he reads this?”
LG: This again is something that doesn’t just apply to German. In fact, it’s not language specific at all.
MD: No, receiver orientation is not a linguistic term. It is psychological. Successful receiver orientation depends on the will and the empathy of the author. You must want to be understood.
LG: And by putting your audience in the centre of your message, you make it about them, and not about yourself. Let’s hear a couple of examples of this.
MD: For example, you should not write wir übermitteln Ihnen die gewünschten Unterlagen, so not ‘we will send you the requested documents’, but Sie erhalten die gewünschten Unterlagen. In English, ‘you will receive the requested documents’. Not ‘we will send’, but ‘you will receive’. That is a receiver orientation. Or wir möchten Sie darüber informieren, dass dies und das. In English, ‘we would like to inform you that…’. But bitte beachten Sie, is ‘please note’, is much shorter and it puts the addressee in the centre.
LG: Similar to what we heard before with aspects such as active versus passive voice, there’s nothing inherently wrong with formulations like wir übermitteln Ihnen…, but it just has a different effect. If you as the company put yourself in the focus and you put yourself as the subject of the sentence, you make it about you.
MD: The addressee knows about the company, what they want. “We send you information”. But when they write “you receive”, I feel ernst genommen, I feel taken seriously.
LG: This pillar is quite a simple one in comparison to the other two. Now, the third pillar is where the real branding side comes in. This pillar is Erkennbarkeit, ‘recognisability’.
MD: Recognisability is the idea also of corporate identity. And corporate identity is primarily experienced visually, for logo, font, photo style, and so on. But the language and the writing style play an important role too. The language must fit to the organisation. And this is what I mean with recognisability. So like a logo shows “this is a product of xy”, the language can also be typical so that we recognise the company or the organisation behind it. That is possible.
LG: A logo is something that is consistent though. You always see it in the same form, maybe with slight variations, but it stays relatively unchanged. The everyday language output of the company can’t stay exactly the same; new texts are being produced all the time. You can still make your language output recognisable though.
MD: There are certain features which give you a sign, which signalise which company is behind. And these features forming the recognisable items, I call Corporate Code markers. So like in the genetic code. It’s the genetic code of the company.
LG: We could also imagine a company’s branded language to be a bit like a human body. You can break it down into the body parts, the individual language features, and determine what these look like, and make them consistent in order for the whole language output – the body – to stay recognisable. If you start switching around those features of your language use, it’s like changing hair colour or eye colour or the shape of the nose. You start to lose what makes it recognisable. In Martin’s system of Corporate Code, these individual body parts or genes or whatever you want to call them are referred to as Corporate Code markers.
MD: And this I have to study and analyse to determine then the Corporate Code markers. Corporate Code markers are the carriers of linguistic stylistic recognition features. There are 27 Corporate Code markers.
LG: Obviously we won’t go through all 27 markers here. Again, I’ll link to resources in the shownotes for the full list. We’ll just pick out some interesting ones today. For example, the first marker is simply the name of the company. Which you would think is just obvious. Just choose a name and stick to it. But it’s not that simple, especially when it comes to names that are particularly Austrian- I mean, particularly long. You might have a second, shorter version of that name, too.
MD: For example, I am teaching at a school which is called, the legal name is Höhere Graphische Bundeslehr- und Versuchsanstalt. But the brand name is Die Graphische. No student says Höhere Graphische Bundeslehr- und Versuchsanstalt. The students say, “ich gehe auf die Graphisiche”. So it’s a short form which is also permitted. And Corporate Code defines, “is it permitted to say just die Graphische? Or do I always have to repeat the long name?”
LG: This is actually the case with a lot of places of education. There is an evening school for adults in Vienna, for instance, with the catchy name [clears throat] Bundesgymnasium, Bundesrealgymnasium und Wirtschaftskundliches Bundesrealgymnasium für Berufstätige. [exhales] Try fitting that on a business card! That’s the legal name, which is nice and descriptive, but no one says that in practice. The school’s branding allows for the snappier title Abendgymnasium Wien, so ‘evening school Vienna’. This has to be defined in the Corporate Code, though, otherwise all sorts of short forms might be possible and it would get messy and unrecognisable. So it’s not really detrimental to your branding to have two names, as long as they are clearly defined – one can be the legal name and one can be the more colloquial, everyday name. When it comes to the rest of the company’s language output, it is good to be as consistent as you can. Though absolute consistency isn’t always possible, and sometimes it might even be a bad idea. Take for example a company with a social media presence. The way they communicate with customers and clients in their letters is very likely to be different to how they communicate on Instagram.
MD: That brings us to the problem that companies or authorities speak in two different voices. Which I do not like at all as a corporate identity specialist. I would rather prefer that we speak always the same language. But here I have to admit that it is not possible to write formal language in social media. The younger your target group is, the more informal language is accepted. In social media, written orality is a must.
LG: When we talk about written orality, we refer to written language being in the style of spoken language. It’s less formal, less rigid, there are maybe contractions and formulations that you would usually get in spoken language.
MD: So that authorities have to speak in two voices: informal in social media, but formal in contracts and annual reports, for example. We have a lot of clients who use written orality when they address their addressees, their clients, but when they write a contract for them or when they write letters, then very often they change into formal language because the informal language would not fit to a contract. So we speak with two voices, unfortunately.
LG: The question of formal versus informal, again, isn’t specific to German per se. But German is one of these languages which have an explicit distinction between the informal and the formal kinds of direct address – du and Sie.
MD: It’s the same with the written orality. The per Sie, per du question is the written orality question, it’s the same thing. In business language you will have more formal writing style and you will not use the du. Du is really for friends. And in social media, also an insurance company, in social media it’s very possible that they say du to their clients.
LG: It would be kind of weird to have any company say Sie to you on social media. It’s not really the time or the place for that. So again, you get these two voices, which puts you as the audience, as the client or the customer, in two different positions. On social media, you’re du, you’re a friend, you’re close. But then when it gets down to the more serious stuff, the letters and the emails, you’re no longer friends, you’re Sie. You’re in a business relationship. Some companies blur the lines here a little bit though. Quite famously, IKEA doesn’t address their audience with Sie, even in marketing emails and much of their general mass correspondence. They deliberately choose du.
MD: For IKEA, it makes double sense, yeah? Because first, the du gives a youthful image, so that would fit for every other company, too. If you want a youthful image, then please take the du. But IKEA has the advantage that everybody knows, that in Sweden, everybody says du. Even the king they call du. And so it’s not only the sign of youthful image, but also of typical Swedish. So this is a very good working form.
LG: Still, IKEA does operate in German-speaking countries, and there are limits as to how far you can push your luck with saying du. At some point, you have to make that switch. They can’t say du all the time.
MD: No. Here, again, we have the same as I described before, that we speak two languages. Even IKEA, in contracts, will suddenly speak per Sie with you. Yes.
LG: A lot of other companies are using du more and more now, making them seem more approachable.
MD: Innocent, the producer of smoothies. They have a very recognisable Corporate Code, using consequently informal language, du, with a lot of humour. For example, they say, “Willst du plaudern?” instead of “Kundentelefon”. So in English, “Wanna chat?” instead of “Customer phone”. It’s a good example for informal youth language which fits very well to the product.
LG: Again though, if you were to interact with them on a more business, contract level, you would be unlikely to stick to du; you would likely have to switch to Sie. You often get the same thing happening when it comes to using dialect. There would come a point where a company would expressly avoid using any dialectal expressions in their communication, but some companies will deliberately use dialect to address their audience.
MD: There is also one Corporate Code marker which defines exactly how to deal with dialect. Dialect expresses regionality. I would recommend it only to tourist companies. For example, closing an email with something like pfiati or servus.
LG: Pfiati is a dialect word you can use with people you’re close to instead of tschüss or tschau. It comes from the phrase Gott behüte dich, meaning ‘God protect you’. Servus, which you will have heard at the end of all my podcast episodes, can be used to greet someone or to say goodbye. It originally comes from the Latin meaning ‘slave’, later ‘servant’. This might sound quite problematic – people using a word as a casual greeting that comes from the word ‘slave’, and there are certainly arguments to be had. But what is meant here is rather ‘at your service’, and it’s in such wide use across Central Europe in its different forms that it’s completely lost this meaning altogether. But back to when you might use dialect words.
MD: So if I’m a constructing company for wooden houses, if they are in Styria or Carinthia where there are a lot of forests, to express this regionality, this regional quality of wood constructions, I could imagine that they also could use dialect to pronounce this regional aspect. But normally it’s more in the Hotellerie [hotel industry], gastronomy, I think we would use it. And dialect is also younger, makes it a little bit fresh, the text.
LG: Either way, it ought to be a well-thought-out choice to use something like pfiati or servus at the end of an email. In general, the way you open and close an email to clients or other people in the company should be planned out and made consistent in order to give the right impression. Opening and closing emails and letters are two of the Corporate Code markers. If we look at greetings, we have a few options. Typically, the du form would call for Lieber or Liebe, so for instance Lieber Johann or Liebe Barbara. The Sie form would usually call for sehr geehrt, so for example Sehr geehrter Herr Bauer, Sehr geehrte Frau Schneider. But in practice, it’s not that simple. You get a bunch of mixed forms too, such as using Lieber when you’re still on last-name terms. There are all sorts of options.
MD: If you’d use Lieber Herr Green, this is very intimate. I would avoid it in business letters. But if business partners know each other for a long time, I would use Lieber. Sehr geehrter is common in Austria. In Germany, Hallo is very frequent and is rising. I think that in some years maybe hallo will be more used than sehr geehrter. When you look to the western countries in Austria – Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg – they use hallo in the greeting, much more than here. It’s also interesting that using hallo sometimes goes together with another form, which is more in Germany than in Austria, that you say Hallo Luke, and then you say Sie. Hallo Luke, danke für Ihren Brief. Normally you would think if you write Hallo oder Lieber Luke, if you use the forename ‘Luke’, that then you would, in the following sentences, in the following letter, you would use the du. But no, this very modern form is that you use the forename, but you say Sie in business. Hallo Luke, danke für Ihren Brief.
LG: This is something I’ve come across before, so being referred to by my first name, but still addressed with Sie. It feels strange and it leaves me wondering if I can do the same back. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to think about how you end the email, too.
MD: Yeah, that is very important that that fits to the greeting. If you write in the greeting Lieber Herr Green, you can also close with Liebe Grüße. If you write Sehr geehrter Herr Green, you must write Mit freundlichen Grüßen oder Freundliche Grüße. That closing and the greeting has to fit together. It must be the same style. It is not possible that you write Sehr geehrter Herr Müller and then Liebe Grüße. Sehr geehrter Herr Müller, it would be more Freundliche Grüße.
LG: That’s if it’s clear-cut. We can be a bit more flexible if we’re already using mixed forms.
MD: Hallo Herr Müller, it would fit also with Liebe, Liebe Grüße, maybe.
LG: The main thing is that you define your company’s style and stick to it. The more unique mixes have the drawback of being a little bit confusing and unusual, or potentially causing misunderstandings as to the closeness of the person you’re writing to, but these unique mixes can also have the advantage of being more recognisable, which is the point of all this. The way in which you open an email also highlights another issue, and the last of the Corporate Code markers we’ll touch upon in this episode: gender-sensitive language. The minute you start using Lieber or sehr geehrte or Herr or Frau, you’re making a statement as to the assumed gender of your audience. This is an issue that’s carried through all of a company’s language output. We’ve already covered the topic of gendering a lot on the podcast, but it’s highly relevant to a company’s Corporate Code.
MD: Generally said, gendering is, in my workshops when I make workshops with my clients on Corporate Code, that is really the hot discussed problem all the time. But unfortunately, the Duden lexicon and the council of German orthography have decided not to define gender rules, and to observe which rules prevail. There is no single rule that applies to all organisations. Ministries, chambers, government agencies, authorities and public institutions have each defined different rules.
LG: Which is irritating on the one hand because there are no standards that apply everywhere. But on the other hand, it gives you freedom to choose how and to what extent you use gender-sensitive language and what you set as the standard for your company.
MD: Basically, it can be said that the more emancipated an organisation wants to present itself, the stricter the gender guidelines are. In the public sector and with NGOs, rather strict regulations apply, while commercial enterprises tend to avoid gender-neutral language in the sense of optimal readability.
LG: Readability is a bit of a contentious topic in the context of gendering. Some people would say gender representation is more important than readability, some would say readability isn’t even really affected by gender-sensitive language. But some would argue that readability is a factor, and it is impeded by using forms of gender-sensitive language.
MD: Unfortunately, all forms of correct gender language is against comprehensibility. If you compare a text in gender-neutral language or in conservative language as before and you measure it with the software of the Hamburger Verständlichkeitsindex, you will see that the gender-correct writing, the results are much worse. But we have always to see the corporate identity of these companies, and the criteria.
LG: Most companies Martin works with have adopted what Martin calls gemäßigtes Gendern, which means ‘moderate gendering’, ‘using gender-sensitive language in moderation’.
MD: We say, “we do not use Binnen-I or gender star”, but we say, “we use the couple form”, so Kundinnen und Kunden, the most of the time. So this is, one of the best forms, is really the couple form.
LG: This would include the masculine and the feminine forms, but of course naturally leaves out people who identify as non-binary, for instance. Even this so-called couple form can be cumbersome, though.
MD: This makes some sentences complicated. So I recommend the couple form in the beginning of a text, Kundinnen und Kunden. In the following, then, once the male form, and once the female form. This is not very common yet, but I believe that this strategy will be successful. The German weekly paper Die Zeit uses exactly this strategy. And if not, you can avoid it. Instead of to say, “eine Technikerin oder ein Techniker”, you can say, “jemand aus dem Technikteam“.
LG: So instead of “a female technician or a male technician”, you can say “someone from the technical team”. Which gets around this issue quite nicely.
MD: All these techniques of avoiding the problem I find very well. But if I am working for an NGO or an organisation which works for women or such an organisation, certainly I would use very strict gender rules, and I would not avoid. Because in using gender star or Binnen-I, they want to demonstrate “here is a problem” as an NGO. But under the view of comprehensibility, and also as a former graphic designer, as I was before, I dislike all these graphic forms like gender star and Binnen-I, because they are ugly, typographically ugly. They are disturbing. But this is what some NGOs want, that it is disturbing, that it demonstrates that there is a problem. But when I work for normal industry or companies, insurance companies, they are not interested in changing the world, they want to sell insurance policy. So there I recommend these Vermeidungsstrategien…
LG: Avoidance strategies.
MD: …to avoid the problem, in replacing it, like jemand aus dem Technikteam.
LG: The point being made here is not that there is one correct way of doing it, but rather that it is about the aims and identity of the company, and based on that, a system of dealing with grammatical gender should be established. This system should then be consistent in order to contribute to the overall recognisability of the company. In this episode we’ve heard about the three pillars of Corporate Code: comprehensibility, receiver orientation and recognisability. We’ve also broken these aspects down a little to see how they can be achieved. These principles aren’t just applicable to writing in corporate contexts, though.
MD: The rules of Corporate Code can be applied to any other kind of text, especially to medical and legal texts. My new book, Recht verständlich formuliert, shows little differences to general Corporate Code. For example, studies have shown that people have expectations of standards in contracts. Contracts use a lot of nominal style and passive form. There, written orality would be disturbing. But law texts could be formulated much more understandable by using shorter sentences.
LG: So seeing as the principles from today’s episode can be applied to all kinds of text, why don’t we end things with something to take away. What are some of the key things to bear in mind?
MD: Yeah, my general recommendations are three. First: Keep your sentences short. One topic is one sentence, two topics are two sentences. Short sentences are more comprehensible. Second recommendation: Focus on the receiver. Describe a topic with his own words. Receiver orientation makes you more believable. And the third recommendation: Develop your personal style or your company’s style. Write a blacklist of words to avoid, and write a whitelist of words you should use instead. That would be my recommendation.
LG: Thank you so much to Martin Dunkl for joining me for this episode. If you’re interested in learning more about what you’ve heard in this episode, Martin has two books out. One is Corporate Code: Wege zu einer verständlichen, empfängerorientierten und unverwechselbaren Unternehmenssprache, where you can read about what we spoke about today, plus all the bits we didn’t get the chance to talk about. There are plenty of examples and practical exercises too, so it’s also quite hands-on. His second, more recent book is called Recht verständlich formuliert: Klartext statt Amtsdeutsch – Rechtstexte zielgruppengerecht schreiben für Mitarbeiter, Kunden, Bürger. This one is all about how to formulate legal texts in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand. Again, with lots of examples and practice exercises. All the details in the shownotes and the podcast website, yellowoftheegg.com.
Remember you can find me on Instagram @yotepodcast, that’s Y-O-T-E-Podcast, Facebook @YellowOfTheEgg, and you can send me an email at email@example.com. I would love it if you could give me a five-star rating and review, and recommend this podcast to other people who need a bit of German in their lives. Thank you for your support.
So with all that being said, thank you so much for listening. Playing us out this series are Euphoniques, this time with “Cool Down”. Check them out on Spotify, links in the shownotes. Enjoy the song, and I’ll see you in the next episode. Machts es gut, servus – at your service – aus Wien.
[Music: “Cool Down” by Euphoniques]