King’s speech too wordy and posh, say researchers

Photo: Gemmy Woud-Binnendijk

If the king gives his annual speech outlining the government’s plans to parliament in simpler language it will not only be better understood but its content is also judged more positively, researchers have found.

University of Utrecht researchers Leo Lentz and Henk Pander Maat rewrote last year’s annual royal budget address using shorter sentences and fewer “difficult” words. They did not change any of the content but did add explanations of certain terms, such as “circular agriculture”.

A group of 100 people listened to the original speech while the same number of people heard the simplified version. The group that listened to the alternative version not only had a better understanding of what was said but also valued it more positively.

Although adapted, the group agreed the language was still suitably formal. “It’s been said that the occasion requires formal language, and the king is not any old person,” Pander Maat told broadcaster NOS. “We asked the group if they thought the new version was too simple and they said no.”

A sentence like “And yet, we may derive strength from the manner in which our country traditionally and gradually navigated great changes” was replaced by “But there is something we can hold on to. Our country has changed much, but it always happened in small steps.”

Another read “That is why halving nitrogen emissions is an inescapable reality,  strengthened by legal rulings, aimed at preventing the stagnation of the licencing process”. That was turned into “To achieve all this, we need to reduce nitrogen emissions by half. The court has confirmed this; and it is needed to allow building to continue.”

More accessible language can bring politics closer to the people, Pander Maat said. “It’s a no-brainer really. Over a million people watched what is a political speech in 2022, people who would otherwise perhaps not be reached at other time.”   

Not much has changed in the last four years as far as language is concerned, the researchers found. “The speeches were all as posh as each other and equally difficult to understand,” they said.

Tuesday’s speech, which the king will deliver shortly after 1pm, will probably be more of the same, Pander Maat said. “They have clearly opted for a certain style.”

The annual speech from the throne, in which king Willem Alexander addresses the members of the upper and lower houses of parliament, plus the diplomatic corps, and outlines the government’s plans for the coming year will be broadcast live on NPO1 on Tuesday.

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