A lexico-grammatical comparison of statutory law and popular written language

Keywords: statutory law, register variation, readability, popular language, key feature analysis


While the plain language movement has shed light on the lack of readability of statutory texts for the lay person, there has been a lack of empirical methodology employed to determine the ways in which statutory language differs lexico-grammatically from forms of popular language that are familiar to the lay person. With this in mind, the present study conducts a comparative analysis of statutory language and other forms of popular written language (i.e., a corpus of news reports, sports reports, encyclopedia articles, and historical articles) with two goals: 1) to provide a detailed lexico-grammatical description of statutory law independent from other forms of legal writing, and 2) to identify pervasive lexico-grammatical features of statutory language that the lay person has relatively less exposure to in comparison to other written registers. Following a bottom-up selection of lexico-grammatical features for analysis, a key feature analysis is used to identify linguistic features that are more pervasive in statutory law relative to other forms of popular written language as measured through Cohen’s d effect sizes. Results reveal the pervasive use of the passive voice, prepositions, a variety of coordinating conjunctions, the pied-piping wh-relative clause construction, and non-finite -ing and -ed clause constructions in statutory language. These results complement previous research regarding the features that are characteristic of statutory language and help to identify features that potentially contribute to the lack of readability of statutory law.


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How to Cite
Wood, M. (2022). A lexico-grammatical comparison of statutory law and popular written language. Research in Corpus Linguistics, 10(2), 16-45. https://doi.org/10.32714/ricl.10.2.03