Speech from the throne not simpler, but more complex than in previous years

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

This year’s speech from the throne was complexly worded once again, analysis by linguists Leo Lentz and Henk Pander Maat shows. It contained many complicated and unfamiliar words, phrases, and constructions. More even, than the speeches from the throne of previous four years.

Difficult speech from the throne

To measure the level of difficulty of the speech from the throne, Lentz and Pander Maat used LiNT, a software tool developed by Utrecht University. With a score of 58, this year's speech from the throne comes close to legal texts (average 62) and scores higher than previous speeches from the throne (around 54). By comparison, texts written in jargon-free ‘children’s book’ language usually have a LiNT-score around 10.

“This year’s speech from the throne was more difficult on all the criteria LiNT considers,” Lentz and Pander Maat say. “There were more unfamiliar and more abstract words and more complex sentences. The latter is mainly because the text contains many enumerations and clauses.”

The linguists rewrote a passage from the speech from the throne. By example, ‘Public service is where people often encounter government for the first time. That is where, at the government counter, trust must be established’ becomes ‘As a citizen, you first encounter the government at the public counter, such as the municipality and the tax office. That is where trust in the government must grow’. “With simplifications like this, the LiNT score of the text drops by 20 points on average,” Lentz and Pander Maat explain.

Rewritten passage

Leo Lentz and Henk Pander Maat rewrote a passage from this year’s speech from the throne. This, and an explanation of the elements LiNT checks, can be downloaded here in Dutch.

Download the sample passages and explanatory notes (pdf, in Dutch)

Benefits of a simpler speech from the throne

Earlier this week, Lentz and Pander Maat’s research on a simpler speech from the throne received widespread media coverage. The researchers had rewritten last year’s throne speech and essentially found only benefits. Subjects rated the new version more positively, finding it easier to understand and less distant, but still formal enough.

A simpler speech from the throne would also be more comfortable for the King. Last year, he clearly struggled with the reading, Lentz and Pander Maat observed. “There were many stumbles and sometimes he seemed surprised that a sentence suddenly ended or continued. This year, the King skipped through the difficult text well. He had fewer gasps and although the sentences contained many enumerations, he generally read them fluently. Remarkably, he wore glasses for the first time while reading. Perhaps this helped him recite.”