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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 7: Synthesis and Final Conclusions 227


CHAPTER VII: SYNTHESIS AND FINAL CONCLUSIONS Despite the widely-held perception of legal language as constituting a relatively homogenous and uniform linguistic phenomenon, the situation appears to be much more complex. The analyses presented in this book are to date the first attempt to demonstrate variation within the disciplinary discourse of law encompassing a range of different genres. The preceding chapters have documented many important linguistic characteristics of legal genres. Table 7.1 below summarizes the most important features identified for individual legal genres. The findings obtained from the analyses demonstrate that there exist highly systematic patterns of use occurring across legal genres. Especially noteworthy are the following patterns: 1. The crucial importance of the distinction between operative or “language of the law” genres and the other legal genres, especially the expository and persuasive genres. Linguistically, legislation and contracts share more similarities than differences. They both have the most limited sets of different words but they contain the greatest range of different lexical bundles. This marks them off as the most formulaic and lexically restricted legal genres. This fundamental distinction between operative and expository genres is projected on the first two dimensions of the 1988 Model of Variation and the first dimension of the new MD analysis, where they are polar opposites. Thus, operative genres are by far more informational, normative and non-narrative than expository and persuasive genres. To a lesser extent, operative genres are more structurally elaborate and complex (Dimension 3 of the 1988 study). In terms of lexical diversity (discussed...

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