This post retrieves a concept from lecture n. 1 and discusses its impact in the context of support to information systems of institutions and organisations in developing countries by not-for-profit international organisations.

This is the second post of a series of six posts according to the mid term assignment titled “Digital Portfolio and Written Assignment”.

Slide n. 7 of the introductory lesson titled “Introduction to Information Systems: What is IS?” explains information characteristics, the fourth characteristic is the following: “Understandability – information is of no use if it can’t be understood”. I’ll interpret the characteristic in the context of theme defined as follows: “Support to Institutions and organisations in developing countries by Not-for-profit International Organisations”.

The language in which a text is written is essential in order to make effective this characteristic, depending on the audience, a specific language has to be used.

The following view helps to focus on the issue: “Language is a marker of ethnic identity; a vehicle for expressing a distinct culture; a source of national cohesion; and an instrument for building political community.” (Safran W., 2004, p. 1)1

Language is not just related to ethnic, nation or cultural group, it can be related to professional domains, think about the difference of a text written specifically for lawyers and a text written specifically for engineers, or physicians, the understandability could be confined to the specific domain, making a hard work the translation of the text to other domains.

Another important aspect is the social stratification of the language, depending on the social status, people could refer to a specific dictionary. For instance we could think about a Health Information System serving population in Africa, the impact of the system will strongly depend on the language used.

Differences among languages occurs also within the same national language, taking in consideration that dialects are distinct languages, on linguistic point of view.

The careful analysis of the language understood by users is a precondition for making understandability effective, the design of Information Systems has to include a language dictionary when users are unable to understand the primary language of the system. The dictionary has to be based on the findings of the analysis.

The analysis should take in consideration those type of languages that cannot easily translated by the users, some types could be the following:

1) Living language. The language that people speak and use in their ordinary lives that does not match entirely with the official language(s) of the state.

2) Diglossia. The language exists in two forms, one formal or literary and the other informal, for instance the language written in newspapers or spoken in schools it is not the same language spoken by the population. Examples can be found in Arabic countries in Northern Africa.

3) Lingua Franca. The language that people use to communicate when they have different first languages. An interesting example is Switzerland where English is becoming a sort of Lingua Franca.

4) Pidgin. A simplified or broken form of a language, especially when used for communication between speakers of different languages. Sub-Saharan Africa is full of such examples.

5) Sub-language. A variety of language with its own terms and expressions that is used by a particular group or to talk about a particular subject. Professional domains are examples.

We cannot forget the artificial languages and signs engineered for disabled people.

This post cannot be exhaustive on the argument, it can be useful for inspiring specific discussions.


1) Safran William, 2004, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Taylor & Francis Inc.