Definitions and Applications

Fig. 3.1
Nida 1964, p. 110 (Reference is main text p. 40, 2.5, in part two)

This is not the only domain in which the law and media feedback ‘make things happen’: the prominence of legal cases recently highlighted in the media and press releases thrives on a combined typology of legal communication, and calls for more adequate tools for analysis and interpretation. In contrast to the word ‘spirit’ (limited to the spirit of the law), the word ‘rule’ is noted by Nida (1964), p. 109 for its semantic diagram of structural contrasts. The word ‘rule’ includes several features and is better understood when legal concepts and lexicon are introduced. There are different correlations between noun (N) and verb (V), as illustrated by T. The semantic ‘markers,’ which are salient for legal lexicon, feature the following binary items, but do not always overlap with Italian or other Western legal lexis:

‘conceptual’ vs. ‘behavioral’ → nouns principle vs. custom

‘executive’ vs. ‘judicial,’ → verbs ‘to control, to govern, to manage, to judge, to decide.

3.6 International Legal English

As noted, one feature of law and language that equally hampers English and Italian juridical language is the die-hard presence of archaisms and obsolete lexicon. These are matched by the flurry of neologisms and an influx of modern crimes for which the media invents acronyms, compounds and mafia-style jargon, sometimes with foreign words. The phenomenon can be seen at different levels—national and global, European, American, Chinese, Indian and African. Crime knows no frontiers, and is a dynamic factor within society and its expressive modality and literature on the problem of the growing world food crisis. International legal English and the globalization of law via conventions and international principles of law fit punishments to the crimes. The language of law and the administration of justice are reported on by the media, combining technical terms with jargon and slang expressions related to delinquency, especially in the case of direct quotations or interviews derived from forensic discourse and courtroom interactions.

The many specific domains wherein legal English is used vary not only in terms of juridical culture and systems, but also in terms of language and translation. There is legal English as used in the European Community and constitution, which is subject to multilingual legislation. There is English in its major international varieties (Canadian, Australian, U.S., New Zealand, etc.) and there is English as used in Scotland and the relevant juridical system (Dossena 2005; Bugaj 2006).

Global and local media report news related to international crimes and court proceedings. Debate at an institutional level overlaps with citations and interviews on the topic and quite often there translation acts as a bridge to international communication. Reporting and news translation may occur simultaneously, when the press and social forums engage in dialogue and institutional debate when a bill is passed. The law defines the crime and labels it. One example is the case of femicide, a term for gendered murder. Obviously enough, English is the language of international communication and criminal justice and laws are reported in English. English as a legal language has its peculiarities, which make it difficult to understand and translate in both directions. The paradox being that it was precisely the language of the law that gave structure to formal written English, and that this occurred via translation. Such is the case of the King James Bible or Authorized Version (1611–1636), as it was translated from Hebrew into English. Another paradox is the fact that under the assumption of ‘modernity’ this ancient and ossified style has been maintained in its clichés and cryptic formulae, thus rendering legal English a matter of mystery for the layperson and non-native speaker alike. Considering the current migratory trend of the global population and the need for an international language in international law, this works to the detriment of communication and accounts for loss in meaning and translation at all levels in judiciary proceedings, constitutional laws, civil rights and asylum laws. The next sections briefly outline some salient features, where the ‘plain language movement’ in many Western countries is calling for a reform and simplification of legal language. This meets the needs of public institutional dialogue with local and national communities. Communities have been steadily becoming more multilingual, hosting unprecedented linguistic varieties and minority groups within Europe and around the globe.

3.7 Plain English, Law and Literature

It was not until the seventies that concerted efforts were made to counteract cryptic legal language. The abstruseness of legal language and the power that resides within the administration of justice in a language precluded to outsiders has been the subject of countless literary parodies in the history of Western literature, from François de Rabelais to Jonathan Swift, from Charles Dickens to Jeremy Bentham. Plain language or the ‘plain language movement’ has spread to non-Anglopone countries, like Italy and Spain. One milestone was the widespread reaction to David (Captain) Mellinkoff’s The Language and the Law in 1963, a damning critique of the age-worn defense of legal technicalities used by lawyers and scholars. More recently members of the European Union’s translation service launched the Fight the Fog campaign.

The language of law, often referred to as ‘legalese,’ represents a specialized language or register. It is actually a language within a language with an obsolete system of phrasing and ritualized formulae pertaining to the many fields and sub-fields of law and jurisprudence. The special language of scientific disciplines (i.e., medicine, engineering, chemistry) features a constant influx of new words—a trend that indicates the linguistic permeability of the global scientific community. The ever-increasing number of technological innovations and patents have meant that scientific language is unquestionably English-derived and anglicized in form (Rossini 1998). The same dynamics do not apply to the law and language, where national and international communities need to understand the language in order to abide by the laws. The plain language movement (Adler 2012, pp. 1967–1973) acts for the community as the recipient of the laws resulting from the globalization of legal discourse (Gotti 2009). It is intended to have considerable positive effects on communication at home and abroad. Mark Adler in his lifetime crusade is adamant: the problems of legalese can be cured without significant change in language; almost none of the impenetrable language adopted by traditionalists is required by the law. Adler uses the lethal weapon of common sense and plain reasoning:

The ideas expressed in legal documents (in contrast to those of theoretical science) will rarely, if ever, be so counter-intuitive as to be beyond the reach of clear explanation. And it is undesirable that they should be, as such complexity would make the obligations difficult to comply with and so defeat the purpose of the documents (Adler 2012, p. 83).

We live in a diasporic world where English is used in Europe and throughout the world, beyond former Commonwealth countries and British dominions, and where multilingualism includes English, as in India and on the African continent. Translation may be affected in many areas, such as legal terminology, multilingual judiciary systems and courtroom interactions. The plain language movement is yet another important factor relevant to communication and institutional accessibility (Asprey 2010). English is not the only language that uses legalese; the language of the law may be equally cryptic in other European languages, as what is discussed in the native tongue may be incomprehensible to a general audience. There is a social need to reduce and minimize the ambiguity of the legal jargon. Plain language is aimed at ensuring correct communication that would enhance translatability, reduce risk of loss in meaning and maximize clear comprehension of the law in a multicultural and multilingual context.

In particular, due to the high level of specificity, the translation of legal texts and their specialized terminology pose several problems not present in other subjects, such as when a person does not understand what crime he/she may have committed, or why he/she signed a contract that cannot be honored, or what bail means (see Australian Aborigines, Sect. 5.​4). Back in the seventies, linguists like Crystal and Davy stigmatized it as ‘one of the least communicative of all uses of language, but also as far removed as possible from informal spontaneous conversation.’ (1969, pp. 193–194). Crystal further criticized how ‘legal language is always being pulled in different directions’ (Crystal 2003, p. 374).

Clearly, the use of the language and its specific characteristics can vary in different domains and contexts, some of which are more formal than others, with a selective usage of prescriptive deontics and epistemic modality (Garzone 1999, 2007).7 The range of legal communication and discourse, independent of nation and language, may vary from technical subject-centered definitions and debates, spoken exchanges in court instructions to jury members, interpersonal communication (members of the legal profession), the press and institutional media, diplomacy and international bodies. It may also require the use of mediators such as interpreters and translators, court transcribers and readers of transcripts. In this case activity is both oral and written. In this regard, Crystal examined a sensitive case of linguistic analysis and transcription involving an Internet pedophile and the victim. This situation is constantly faced by forensic linguistics and the focus has to be on analysis of conversations and recordings of a specific ritual code of questionings; applied linguistics is of no help here (Crystal 2011, pp. 122–123).

Written legal texts may include case law, law reports or prescriptive legal texts. In most European languages (Italian, English, French, etc.) they feature long and complex sentences with unclear patterns of subordination and coordination. International institutions follow suit here with breathtakingly long sentences. United Nations resolutions are made up of a single sentence, but often stretching to hundreds or thousands of words. This is because they follow well-established drafting rules and templates: starting with the name of the authorizing body, followed by a preamble with unfinished clauses ending with a comma (‘reaffirming that,’ ‘deeply concerned about’…). The style is protocol-like, with formulaic archaism used as causal, restrictive and temporal connectives, such as hereinafter, henceforth, whence, heretofore, aforethought

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