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Patterns of Linguistic Variation in American Legal English

A Corpus-Based Study


Stanislaw Gozdz-Roszkowski

Translators, law students or legal professionals who begin to deal with legal language face a bewildering variety of legal writings. Even though legal language has been examined from a multitude of perspectives, there are virtually no studies explicitly addressing variation in legal English in terms of recurrent linguistic patterns. This book is a first step towards filling this gap. It provides a corpus-based linguistic description of variation among several selected legal genres, including vocabulary distribution and use (keywords), extended lexical expressions (lexical bundles), and lexico-syntactic co-occurrence patterns (multidimensional analysis). The findings are interpreted in functional terms in an attempt to provide an overall characterization of the most commonly encountered types of legal language.


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Chapter 2: The Methods and the Corpus 27


CHAPTER II: THE METHODS AND THE CORPUS 2.1. Introduction The descriptions of legal language provided in this book emerged from different research methodologies applied to examine a multi-genre corpus of legal texts. Much of the published work on legal discourse6 has focused on the functions of a specific feature (or features) in a particular legal genre or on the analysis of legal discourse in different courtroom situations or other legal contexts, especially in the field of forensic linguistics. The research goal in this book is to provide a comprehensive linguistic description of a range of legal genres based on large authentic data. The data comes from what is probably the largest and most representative corpus of legal discourse. Thus, this chapter first describes the design and construction of the corpus and it demonstrates how individual genres fit in within the larger framework of legal institutions or what could be collectively described as the world of law. The latter part of this chapter introduces different methodologies employed throughout the book. 2.2. Design and construction of the American Law Corpus (ALC) The collection of texts (hereinafter called the American Law Corpus or the ALC) contains over 5,500,000 words and represents seven major genres which are part of the American legal culture and education. Table 2.1 below shows the overall composition of the ALC by genre category. Table 2.1. Composition of the American Law corpus Genre # of texts # of words Academic journals 71 552,487 Briefs 64 763,222...

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