A simpler speech from the throne is better appreciated and understood

Koning Willem-Alexander leest de Troonrede van 2017 voor. Foto: Martijn Beekman, Ministerie van Financiën, via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

According to research by linguists Leo Lentz and Henk Pander Maat (Utrecht University), a simpler speech from the throne is better understood and more positively assessed. Lentz and Pander Maat rewrote the 2022 Dutch speech from the throne, leaving the content unchanged but the wording more accessible. Test subjects rated the new version more positively, finding it easier to understand and less distant, but still ceremonial enough.

Gaining in understanding

For their rewriting of the Dutch speech from the throne, Lentz and Pander Maat used simpler words and phrases. Occasionally they provided extra explanations for tricky terms, such as ‘circular farming’. In an online experiment, 100 test subjects listened to the original speech from the throne and 100 others to the rewrite. All listeners were then shown 30 statements, half of which matched the text and half of which did not.

For each statement, subjects were asked whether it matched the content of the text they had just heard. Listeners of the original version of the speech from the throne got 72% of the comprehension questions right on average, for those of the rewrite it was 81%. In other words, the error rate dropped from 28% to 19%. The comprehension gains did not only come from the passages with additional explanations; even if the questions on those passages are excluded, the rewrite had a better score than the original version.

What effects does simplifying the speech from the throne have?

Download the short report written by Leo Lentz and Henk Pander Maat on their research into the effects of a simpler speech from the throne. It also includes the rewritten version of the 2022 speech from the throne.

Download the short report (pdf, in Dutch)

Simpler speech from the throne is solemn enough

The rewrite was also assessed more positively as less distant and less vague. To check whether the simple version is still taken seriously as an official text, the subjects were asked whether the speech from the throne should not be a bit more stately than the text just heard. The subjects found that to be true for neither version of the text. So, even the listeners of the simple text found it solemn enough.

Most Dutch speeches from the throne are complex

The content is different every year, but the Dutch speeches from the throne have a fairly constant level of difficulty: the 2022 speech was about as difficult to write as the previous three years. This was found in an analysis using LiNT, a software tool developed at Utrecht University. In short, the study likely to be representative of speeches of the throne in general.

“Opportunities to engage citizens in politics”

Commenting on the results, researcher Henk Pander Maat says: “Any opportunity to bring politics closer to citizens should be embraced. This opportunity is there for the taking. On Budget Day 2022, more than a million people watched the political speech, people you hardly reach at other times.”

Pander Maat also sees starting points for further research. “We wonder to what extent simpler formulations can encounter political sensitivities. Our impression is that this is not a problem for most text interventions, but it cannot be ruled out. Secondly, we want to explore whether a simpler text is also easier to read out fluently. This would be beneficial both for the king and for all listeners.”