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Language is the conditio sine qua non of law.

Sprache ist die Conditio sine qua non des Rechts.

 

Dr Emilia Lindroos

Legal linguist & legal translator

Habilitandin, Europäische Rechtslinguistik, Universität zu Köln

University Lecturer, Legal Linguistics, University of Lapland

Language is the conditio sine qua non of law.

 

 

Law and language, also referred to with the word combination legal linguistics (oikeuslingvistiikka, rättslingvistik, Rechtslinguistik, linguistique juridique, jurilinguistics), is an emerging discipline that focuses on the interaction and interdependence between law and language. The main object of study is the language of the law - legal language - that is considered a language for special purposes (LSP), differing from ordinary language due to certain linguistic features, such as specific legal terminology. From the viewpoint of legal discourse, legal language is an indispensable factor for the operation of a legal system, an instrument of power used in legal texts to fulfil different functions. To gain new insights into the ways in which law is communicated, interpreted, applied and practiced across text genres embedded in diverse socio-cultural contexts, knowledge is drawn not only from the fields of law and linguistics, but also from overlapping disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, history and philosophy.

 

Forensic linguistics (forensinen lingvistiikka, forensisk lingvistik, forensische Linguistik, linguistique forensique), as a sub-discipline of law and language, or legal linguistics, deals with linguistic evidence and its use in legal proceedings. Using language as an investigative tool, forensic linguists work on written texts such as threatening letters, suicide notes, ransom demands, text messages, e-mails and police interview records. In addition to the analysis of written texts, covering authorship identification and author comparison, threat assessment, contested meanings and much more, the field of forensic phonetics adresses issues related to spoken language ranging from forensic speaker identification and comparison, accent identification and the analysis of audio data (recorded witness testimonies, phone calls, etc.) to forensic stylistics and linguistic evidence in asylum cases (Language Analysis for Determination of Origin, LADO).

 

In the light of the broadening scope of law and language, or legal linguistics, contemporary research into legal communication is characterized by diversity both in terms of research interests pursued and methods applied. In addition to the aspects mentioned above, scientific legal linguistic analysis has thus far been used to examine, inter alia, legal terminology, legal phraseology, legal genres, legal style, the extensive fields of legal interpreting and legal translation (LIT), legislative drafting, the comprehensibility, vagueness and ambiguity of legal texts, legal decision-making as well as legal argumentation and rhetorics. As indicated in existing literature, legal linguistic and forensic linguistic explorations can provide a deeper understanding of law and legal communication by shedding light on the ways in which legal language constitutes and changes legal reality.

 

Why is this relevant? Diverse legal and linguistic challenges have arisen from the internationalization and europeanization of law. As a result of the increasing amount of cases requiring effective cross-border collaboration between legal specialists from different countries and the involvement of legal translators and intepreters in order to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers, the cooperation between legal and linguistic professionals has gained importance. Also, the need for comparative legal and legal lingistic knowledge has become pressing. Against this background, the main aim of researchers in the field of law and language, or legal linguistics, is not only to aquire new information on the linguistic dimensions of legal systems through scientific inquiries, but also to raise awareness of the crucial role of language in law and to promote equal access to justice across legal and linguistic boundaries.