A lexico-grammatical comparison of statutory law and popular written language
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.
Alasmary, Abdullah. 2019. Lexical bundles in contract law texts: A corpus-based exploration and implications for legal education. International Journal of English Linguistics 9/2: 244–257.
Andersson, Dan. 2007. Deontic Modal Verbs in EU Legislation: A Comparative Study of Documents in Four Germanic Languages. Stockholm: University of Stockholm dissertation.
Bednarek, Monika and Helen Caple. 2014. Why do news values matter? Towards a new methodological framework for analysing news discourse in Critical Discourse Analysis and beyond. Discourse & Society 25/2: 135–158.
Bhatia, Vijay Kumar. 1983. Simplification v. easification: The case of legal texts. Applied Linguistics 4/1: 42–54.
Bhatia, Vijay Kumar. 1993. Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. London: Longman.
Biber, Douglas. 1988. Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, Douglas. 2014. Using multi-dimensional analysis to explore cross-linguistic universals of register variation. Language in Contrast 14/1: 7–34.
Biber, Douglas and Susan Conrad. 2009. Register, Genre, and Style. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, Douglas and Jesse Egbert. 2016. Register variation on the searchable web: A multi-dimensional analysis. Journal of English Linguistics 44/2: 95–137.
Biber, Douglas and Jesse Egbert. 2018. Register Variation Online. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, Douglas and Bethany Gray. 2016. Grammatical Complexity in Academic English: Linguistic Change in Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Biber, Douglas and Bethany Gray. 2019. Are law reports an ‘agile’ or an ‘uptight’ register? Tracking patterns of historical change in the use of colloquial and complexity features. In Teresa Fanego and Paula Rodríguez-Puente eds. Corpus-based Research on Variation in English Legal Discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 147–170.
Biber, Douglas, Susan Conrad, Randi Reppen, Pat Byrd and Marie Helt. 2002. Speaking and writing in the university: A multidimensional comparison. Tesol Quarterly 36/1: 9–48.
Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geofrey Leech, Susan Conrad and Edward Finegan. 1999. The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.
Biel, Lucja. 2009. Corpus-based studies of legal language for translation purposes: Methodological and practical potential. In Carmen Heine and Jan Engberg eds. Reconceptualizing LSP. Proceedings of the XVII European LSP Symposium Aarhus: Aarhus University, 1–15.
Biel, Lucja. 2014. Phraseology in legal translation: A corpus-based analysis of textual mapping in EU law. In Le Cheng, King Kui Sin and Anne Wagner eds. The Ashgate Handbook of Legal Translation. London: Routledge, 178–192.
Biel, Lucja. 2017. Lexical bundles in EU law: The impact of translation process on the patterning of legal language. In Stanislwaw Goźdź-Roszkowski and Gianluca Pontrandolfo eds. Phraseology in Legal and Institutional Settings: A Corpus-Based Interdisciplinary Perspective. London: Routledge, 10–26.
Breeze, Ruth. 2013. Lexical bundles across four legal genres. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 18/2: 229–253.
Bulatović, Vesna. 2013. Legal language: The passive voice myth. ESP Today 1/1: 93–112.
Caliendo, Giuditta, Gabriella Di Martino and Marco Venuti. 2005. Language and discourse features of EU secondary legislation. In Anna Duszak and Guiseppina Cortese eds. Identity, Community, Discourse: English in Intercultural Settings. Bern: Peter Lang, 381–404.
Charrow, Robert P. and Veda Charrow. 1979. Making legal language understandable: A psycholinguistic study of jury instructions. Columbia Law Review 79: 1306–1374.
Cohen, Jacob. 1977. Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. New York: Academic Press.
Davies, Mark. 2012. Oppositions and Ideology in News Discourse. London: Bloomsbury Academic Press.
Davies, Mark. 2013. Corpus of Global Web-Based English. https://corpus.byu.edu/glowbe/
Egbert, Jesse and Margaret Wood. (Under review). Constructing and Designing a Specialized Corpus of Statutory Law (CorUSSS).
Foley, Roger. 2002. Legislative language in the EU: The Crucible. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 15/4: 361–374.
Fowler, Roger. 2013. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London: Routledge.
Gibová, Klaudia. 2011. On modality in EU institutional-legal documents. In Alena Kačmárová eds. English Matters II: A Collection of Papers by the Institute of British and American Studies Faculty. Prešov: University of Prešov, 6–12.
Goźdź-Roszkowski, Stanislaw. 2011. Patterns of Linguistic Variation in American Legal English: A Corpus-based Study. Bern: Peter Lang.
Hiltunen, Risto. 2012. The grammar and structure of legal texts. In Lawrence M. Solan and Peter M. Tiersma eds. The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 39–51.
Jablonkai, Réka. 2010. English in the context of European integration: A corpus-driven analysis of lexical bundles in English EU documents. English for Specific Purposes 29/4: 253–267.
Özyildirim, Işil. 2011. A comparative register perspective on Turkish legislative language. Law Review 1/1: 79–94.
Pontrandolfo, Gianluca. 2015. Investigating judicial phraseology with COSPE: A contrastive corpus-based study. In Claudio Fantinuoli and Federico Zanettin eds. New Directions in Corpus-based Translation Studies. Berlin: Language Sciences Press, 137–160.
Rodríguez-Puente, Paula. 2019. Interpersonality in legal written discourse: A diachronic analysis of personal pronouns in law reports, 1535-present. In Teresa Fanego and Paula Rodríguez-Puente eds. Corpus-based Research on Variation in English Legal Discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 171–199.
Scollon, Ron. 2014. Mediated Discourse as Social Interaction: A Study of News Discourse. London: Routledge.
Seracini, Francesca. 2020. The Translation of European Union Legislation: A Corpus-based Study of Norms and Modality. Milan: LED Edizioni Universitarie.
Staples, Shelley, Jesse Egbert, Douglas Biber and Bethany Gray. 2016. Academic writing development at the university level: Phrasal and clausal complexity across level of study, discipline, and genre. Written Communication 33: 149–183.
Sun, Yuxiu and Le Cheng. 2017. Linguistic variation and legal representation in legislative discourse: A corpus-based multi-dimensional study. International Journal of Legal Discourse 2/2: 315–339.
Tapia, Ana M. Gates and Douglas Biber. 2014. Lexico-grammatical stance in Spanish news reportage: Socio-political influences on que-complement clauses and adverbials in Ecuadorian broadsheets. Spanish Journal of Applied Linguistics 27/1: 208–237.
Tiersma, Peter M. 1999. Legal Language. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Trebits, Anna. 2009. The most frequent phrasal verbs in English language EU documents: A corpus-based analysis and its implications. System 37/3: 470–481.
Williams, Christopher. 2004. Legal English and plain language: An introduction. ESP across Cultures 1/1: 111–124.
Williams, Christopher. 2007. Tradition and Change in Legal English: Verbal Constructions in Prescriptive Texts. Bern: Peter Lang.
Williams, Christopher. 2013. Changes in the verb phrase in legislative language in English. In Bas Aarts, Jo Close and Sean Wallis eds. The Verb phrase in English: Investigating Recent Language Change with Corpora, 353–371.
Xie, Qin. 2018. Critical discourse analysis of news discourse. Theory and Practice in Language Studies 8/4: 399–403.
Yana, Dewi. 2015. The lexico grammatical features of the political register analysis in the editorial of the Jakarta Post Newspaper. ANGLO-SAXON 6/2: 15–23.
Copyright (c) 2022 Research in Corpus Linguistics
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.