Bankspeak – The Language of World Bank Reports

Franco Moretti und Dominique Pestre in einem viel zu langen und viel zu interessanten Artikel über The Language of World Bank Reports. TL;DR: Die Sprache des Weltbank-Berichts wurde in den vergangenen 60 Jahren immer allgemeiner und nichtssagender („words like commodities, or improvements raise the analysis to a higher level of abstraction than, say, hydroelectric plants and cement“), gleichzeitig hat sich der Gebrauch des Wortes „und“ nahezu verdoppelt, weil man noch mehr nichtssagende Scheinbegriffe aneinanderreiht. Alles keine wirklich neuen Erkenntnisse, dennoch extrem interessant.


Issues, players, concern, efforts, platforms, dialogue, ground… ‘The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness’, wrote Orwell in ‘Politics and the English Language’, and his words are as true today as they were in 1946. The Bank stresses the importance of what it’s saying — key, global, innovative, enlightened — but its words are hopelessly opaque. […]

‘Bankspeak’, we have written, echoing Orwell’s famous neologism; but there is one crucial difference between the lexicographers of 1984 and the Bank’s ghost writers. Whereas the former were fascinated by annihilation (‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words… every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller’), the latter have a childish delight in multiplying words, and most particularly nouns. The frequency of nouns in academic prose is usually just below 30 per cent; in World Bank Reports it has always been significantly higher, and has increased slowly and regularly over the years. It is the perfect rhetoric to bring the ‘world’ inside the ‘bank’: a ‘chaotic enumeration’ of disparate realities—to quote an expression coined by Leo Spitzer—that suggests an endlessly expanding universe, encouraging a sense of admiration and wonder rather than critical understanding.

New Left Review: BANKSPEAK – The Language of World Bank Reports