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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 6: Multi-Dimensional Patterns of Variation Across Legal Genres 183


CHAPTER VI: MULTI-DIMENSIONAL PATTERNS OF VARIATION ACROSS LEGAL GENRES 6.1. Introduction We saw in the previous chapter that the 1988 Model of Variation can be extremely useful in characterizing legal genres relative to dimensions identified for general, non-specialist use of language. This type of analysis enables one to make comparisons among various specialist as well as non-specialists genres and registers outside the legal discourse. Most importantly, it affords the possibility of adding another level of description to this by going beyond the legal discourse. It provides useful and insightful points of reference, thus leading to a better understanding of legal writing as set against the backdrop of other language varieties. However, as Biber points out in his study of university registers, this type of analysis cannot be used to identify and describe dimensions “that are actually most important in a particular domain of use” (Biber, 2006: 181). The co- occurrence of linguistic features is unique to a particular discourse domain. It reflects “the specialized functional priorities of those domains” (ibid.). A new MD analysis involves carrying out a new factor analysis in order to identify the co- occurrence patterns relevant and actually present in a collection of texts under examination. In this study, the two types of multi-dimensional analysis are treated as complementary. This time, we focus on studying multi-dimensional patterns of variation only within legal discourse. By conducting a new MD analysis (its methodology is provided in Section 2.8.1 in Chapter 2), we hope to identify the co-occurrence patterns...

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