This article has the purpose of discussing the role of standards in written communication. Since the creation of international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union, the need for a common code became evident. English soon became the international language of politics, business and travel, and controlled languages were created to assist writing and translation. Today, there is the need for effective communication. Controlled languages as internationally recognized standards can give enormous benefits to writing and translation.
The need for communication
Today, the Internet is the primary source of information and written communication for most people. One may want to send and read e-mails, online versions of newspapers and magazines, join various interest groups through social networks, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, or take part in blogs and discussion forums. In such a complex scenario, an effective and correct communication is essential to allow interaction among people in which language is the most important factor.
The need for a global language
The need for a global language became evident during the last century. After World War II, many international organizations such as the United Nations, UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, the World Bank and the World Health Organization, appeared on the worldwide scene. The increasing number of nations grouped together within these organizations has been an exceptional event, which never happened before in history. Subsequently, regional groups or multi-national political and economic aggregations were also created, such as the Commonwealth and the European Union. As a result, the necessity of adopting a sort of “lingua Franca” to ease communication in all these contexts became stronger and stronger.
However, the need for a global language was not confined to political aspects only. Within academic, science, medicine, engineering, transport and economic communities there was a growing demand for better communication. International conferences, business meetings, travel, leisure and other aspects of everyday life are only a few examples of thousands and thousands of contacts made between people, physically or through various communication tools. There has never been a period like the current one in which so many nations have the need to talk so intensely and people travel to so many places on the planet. There has never been such an intensive demand for translation and interpreting. The need for a global harmonized and standardized language has never been as urgent as it is now.
English as global language – Controlled languages as standards
English soon became the international language most used by communities, organizations and industries for promoting their businesses and documentation. However, it is not always the native language of the readers and the authors of such documentation. People with a limited knowledge of English are easily confused by complex sentence structures and by the several meanings and synonyms that English words can have.
In the Thirties Professor Charles K. Ogden created Basic English , that consisted of a set of simple grammar rules and a restricted vocabulary of 850 words. It was the first real attempt to “give everyone a second or international language” for business and education in every country, with the primary aim of promoting communication between people, a mean for world peace and an aid for translation. We can consider Basic English as a pioneer controlled language. From there, some other controlled languages were developed, each of them dedicated to different fields of application. In the Seventies, Caterpillar created Caterpillar Fundamental English  to make operating and maintenance instructions easily understood by their customers and users. In the Nineties, the President of the United States introduced the use of Plain Language in all government regulations; Great Britain Government and other English-speaking Countries used the same approach. The new South African Constitution of 1996 is perhaps the first in the world written in scrupulous respect of the principles of Plain Language.
ASD Simplified Technical English
English became also the language of transport technology and engineering domains, especially aviation, where the need for sharing a common code for operation and maintenance was essential to guarantee, other than the correct understanding of the procedures, the flight safety and the human life. A standard was created to regulate technical writing: the ASD Simplified Technical English, ASD-STE100 (STE) .
The STE project (formerly known as AECMA Simplified English) started in 1979 with a request made by the European airline industry, which approached AECMA (the European Association of Aerospace Industries) to investigate a possible form of controlled English to be used by all manufacturers. After researching several types of controlled languages in use in other industries, AECMA decided to produce its own controlled English and, in 1983, set up a project group, under the leadership of Fokker. The project was not limited to the European industry. The American Aerospace industry, through the AIA (Aerospace Industries Association of America), was invited to participate, especially as some American companies had already done some standardization along the same lines.
AECMA Simplified English was first released in 1986 as a guide. Soon it was included as a requirement in the major international specifications for writing maintenance manuals. In 2004, AECMA became ASD, “The AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe”, and the Simplified English guide became an official specification, ASD-STE100, with the word “technical” added to its name. Although today the STE structure is stable and consolidated, the language has to be kept in line with the technology evolution and amended based on the continuous and important feedback from the users.
Today, the success of STE is such that other industries want to use it beyond its intended purpose of aviation maintenance documentation. The interest in STE is also growing within the academic world and for its principles and accuracy it is a model-writing standard for other domains and industries, like medical, oil, high-tech sectors, and many others. A recent study on STE shows that only 3% of the current content is specific to aviation, the remaining 97% is applicable in all contexts, without any need for adaptation.
Principles and structure of STE
The STE specification provides a set of writing rules and a dictionary of controlled vocabulary. The writing rules (approximately 60) cover aspects of grammar and style; the dictionary (approximately 860 words) specifies the general words that can be used. These words were chosen for their simplicity and ease of recognition. In general, there is only one word for one meaning, and one part of speech for one word. Besides the specified general vocabulary, STE accepts the use of company-specific or project-oriented technical words (referred to in STE as Technical Names and Technical Verbs), if they fit into one of their categories listed in the specification.
STE and translation
Helping the translation process was a primary goal of the controlled languages and STE is no exception. As said before, the Simplified English project officially started on June 30, 1983, with the “First Ratification Meeting for AECMA Simplified English”, held at Fokker, Amsterdam. This significant statement is included in the minutes of that meeting:
“Simplified English should be seen as a code that uses English words for its symbols. The users of the texts learn to recognize the “code symbols” (words) that tell them what to do. The users do not learn how to speak or write English. They do not even learn “everyday” English, but only SE. But at the same time, SE must still meet the demand of being an idiomatic version of English. … This “code” aspect of SE makes it very suitable for machine translation”. 
The use of STE throughout the years indicates that translation from STE texts is not necessary in aviation if readers have a basic knowledge of English, but it may be necessary if readers do not have that knowledge. However, outside the aviation industry a translation could always be necessary. In this case, if the “source text” is English and correctly written in STE, the translation process (especially a Machine Translation process), can be dramatically helped by the principle of “one word = one meaning”. The translation process will become more and more accurate if the machine is “guided” to replicate in its translation the “assigned meaning” given to the STE words. This does not necessarily require subsets of STE translated in other languages, but the availability of a “mirror” controlled language based on STE would greatly help the translation process.
A “mirror” controlled language may use the same structure of the STE writing rules and a dictionary suitably adapted to a specific language. A significant attempt was made in the past in France (Rationalized French) with exceptionally good results and enormous benefits. Other attempts were made with other languages and some are in process.
Having a consolidated and internationally recognized standard as a reference is very important in translation. It could be ASD-STE100 or another standard, as long as the source text is correct, simple and understandable. Sometimes people are confused by the instructions. For example, they may not be able to set their TV, mobile phone or video camera, because the texts in the user’s manuals are not translated correctly into their own language. Manuals are clear examples in which source texts – although understandable in the original starting language – can be misinterpreted by translators and the resulting translation may lead to something incorrect or meaningless. The common “code” (i.e. the Standard) is essential to the effective translation and communication in general.
Effective communication is very important and sharing a common “code” is essential. In the present global and complex scenario, Standards are playing a key role for this purpose. In the same way that XML regulates the formatting of texts for electronic release, there is a strong need to regulate the writing itself. Controlled languages, as internationally recognized standards, can serve the scope in certain instances. The use of controlled languages in writing and translation does not diminish the everyday languages but makes the messages and texts easily understandable to everyone. The misconception about controlled languages, the reluctance and the resistance to use them are often derived by the fact that it is thought they could limit the authors. In reality, nobody will try to translate poems or literature books into STE or similar, and it is necessary to keep literature material well separated from general communication and technical domains. Plain Language, Plain English, Simplified Technical English etc. should be seen as vehicles and tools for improving clarity and hit the target of effective communication. Without standards, there will be a serious risk of an uncontrolled jungle.
 Charles K. Ogden – “BASIC English – A general introduction with rules and grammar”, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1930 and subsequent editions.
 Charles A. Verbeke – “Caterpillar Fundamental English”, Training and Development Journal, 27, 2, 36-40, Feb 1973.
 ASD – Aerospace and Defence Industries Associations of Europe – “ASD Simplified Technical English, Specification ASD-STE100”, 1986 – 2010.
 ASD – Aerospace and Defence Industries Associations of Europe – “First Ratification Meeting for AECMA Simplified English”, 1983 – 2012.