sabato 11 agosto 2007

Features of Legal English

Here are some of the many features linguists over the years have come up with:

Written Legal English is characterised by the following features:


- Long, complex sentences rich in qualificazional insertions which often create syntactic discontinuity

- tendency to be wordy, unclear, pompous and dull
Wordiness of legal language:
Now therefore, in consideration of the premises, and re-presentations, warranties, covenants and undertakings for the parties hereinafter set forth, and for other good and valuable considerations, the parties agree among themselves as follows”

- only complete major sentences: eg. statements, no question, occasional commands

- preference for repetiontion rather than subtitution with pronoun references

- Frequent use of passive
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.[1]
Full fees must be paid before visa documentation is issued. Students may not start their course unless full payment has been received.[2]

- Legal sentences have an underlying logical structure: "if X, then Z shall be (do) Y" - "if X" = conditional/ concessive adverbial clauses: on the expiration ....../ subject to./ on conditions that, in accordance with, in compliance with, for the purpose of

- Preference for nouns rather than verbs reached a conclusion" rather than "concluded"; "granted a continuance" rather than "continued"; "involved in a collision" rather than "collided: "take action" rather than "act"

- Verbal groups are of the type: modal auxiliary (shall) + be + past participle : shall is used to express what is to be the obligatory consequence of a legal decision, and not simply as a marker of future tense.

- Preference for archaic words and phrases: eg: duly, deemed, expiration, terminated (words); term of years, upon the death of (collocations); made and signed, terms and conditions, able and willing (synonyms are coordinated) “thereupon he handed in his resignation”

- A large number of French words, eg: proposal, effect, society, asurance, insured, schedule, duly, signed, agreeing, policy, subject, rules, form, terms, conditions, date, entrace, accepted, agreement, judgement, pleadings, defendant, appeal, attorneys

- Frequent use of Latin words: bais, declaration, registered, stated, part, inter alia, ex parte (on behalf of), ratio legis (the reason for/the principle behind), habeas corpus, alibi, bona fide, quorum, nolo contendere, sui juris;

- Predominace of an impersonal style of writing by using passive forms and starting the sentence (typical of legislative text) with everyone, every person or no one, no person[3]

Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

No one shall be held guilty of any criminal [....]

- Use of doublets and triplets. Tendency to string together two or three words to convey what is usually a single legal concept, e.g. null and void, fit and proper, perform and discharge, dispute, controversy or claim, and promise, agree and covenant.

- Use of phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs play a large role in legal English, and are often used in a quasi-technical sense, e.g. parties enter into contracts, put down deposits, serve [documents] upon other parties, write off debts, and so on.

- Frequent use of formal words and expressions[4]
Approach the bench instead of come here
The deceased and decedent
Arrested in flagrante delicto
instead of caught in the act
In court: Your honour ……, may it please the court
In contracts: whereas ….., time is of the essence … , from the beginning of the world
In court, during an oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States

For those who have a deeper interest in the subject, look at Peter Tiersma's professional web page http://www.languageandlaw.org/. He is a professor of law at Loyola Law school in Los Angeles with a real passion for language and law and lots of works being published on the subject.


[1] Article 4 of the Charter of Foundamental Rights of the EU, Nizza 2000
[2] Section on Tuition & Accommdation fees from a School of English Terms and Conditions
[3] Article 48-49 of the Charter of Foundamental Rights of the EU, Nizza 2000


[4] G. Garzone, R. Salvi, Legal English, Egea, 2007, p.12


1 commento:

Liz ha detto...

This is great info to know.