Functions of Legal Language
Functions of language:
Jakobson’s classification
Phatic f.
(emotive or
expressive f.)
(poetic f.)
(conative f.)
Referential f.)
Functions of Legal Language
 1) Producing legal effects by speech acts
 2) Transmitting legal messages
 3) Reinforcing the authority of the Law
 4) Reinforcing the team spirit of the legal profession
 5) Linguistic legislation
 6) Cultural tasks
1. Speech Act Theory
 Theory of speech acts : John L. Austin (1911-1960), John
Searle (1932)
 J. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (1962)
 Non-declarative uses of language
 Language is used not only to transmit messages but to
produce certain effects
1. Speech Act Theory
 Many utterances do not communicate information,
but are equivalent to actions
 ‘I apologize’, ‘I promise’, ‘I do’ (at a wedding) –
utterances convey a new psychological or social reality
 To say = to perform
 Such utteranctes – performatives; different from
statements that convey information (constatives)
 Performatives are not true or false
1. Speech act theory
 Speech is not only passively describing a given reality,
but it can change the (social) reality through speech
 For linguistics as revolutionary a discovery as for
physics was the the discovery that measurement itself
can change the measured reality.
1. Speech act theory
 Studies the effect of utterances on the behaviour of
speaker or hearer using a threefold distinction:
 1) we recognize the bare fact that a communicative act
takes place: locutionary act
 2) we look at the act that is performed as a result of an
utterance (e.g. promising, welcoming, warning):
illocutionary act
 3) we look at the effect the speaker’s utterance has on
the listener: perlocutionary act
1.1.Speech Acts
 Locutionary
 Illocutionary
 Perlocutionary
1.1.1.Locutionary speech acts
 The actual utterance and its ostensible meaning,
corresponding to the verbal, syntactic and semantic
aspects of any meaningful utterance
1.1.2.Illocutionary speech act
 The semantic 'illocutionary force' of the utterance,
thus its real, intended meaning;
 E.g. promising, ordering someone, and bequeathing
 "by saying something, we do something", e.g. someone
issues an order by saying "Go!“; a minister joins two
people in marriage saying, "I now pronounce you
husband and wife; "I bequeath this watch to my
brother," as occurring in a will
1.1.2.Illocutionary acts
 "I nominate John to be President",
 "I sentence you to ten years' imprisonment", or
 "I promise to pay you back.“
 In these performative sentences, the action that the
sentence describes (nominating, sentencing,
promising) is performed by the utterance of the
sentence itself.
 Though they may take the form of a typical indicative
sentence, performative sentences are not used to
describe and are thus not true or false; they have no
 To utter one of these sentences in appropriate
circumstances is not just to "say" something, but
rather to perform a certain kind of action
 when something goes wrong in connection with a
performative utterance it is "infelicitous", or "unhappy"
rather than false
1.1.2.Illocutionary speech acts (Searle
 1)Representatives = commit a speaker to the truth of a
proposition, e.g. affirm, believe, conclude, deny, report
2)Directives = the speaker tries to get the hearer to do sth,
e.g. requests, commands and advice
3)Commissives = commit a speaker to some future action,
e.g. promises and oaths
4)Expressives = express the speaker's attitudes and
emotions towards the proposition, e.g. congratulations,
excuses and thanks
5)Declarations = change the reality in accordance with the
proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing
someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife
1.1.3.Perlocutionary speech acts
 A speech act, as viewed at the level of its psychological
consequences, such as persuading, convincing,
scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting
someone to do or realize something.
 contrasted with locutionary and illocutionary acts
1.1.3.Perlocutionary speech acts
 Unlike the notion of locutionary, which describes the
linguistic function of an utterance, a perlocutionary
effect is in some sense external to the performance.
 It may be thought of as the effect of the illocutionary
via the locutionary act.
 when examining perlocutionary acts, the effect on the
hearer or reader is emphasized.
1.1.3.Perlocutionary speech acts
 Eliciting an answer is an example of perlocutionary
act, an act performed by saying something.
 If one successfully performs a perlocution, one also
succeeds in performing both an illocution and a
1.2.Felicity conditions
 Speech acts – successful if they satisfy felicity
 For some performatives the person must have the
authority to do sth: fine, baptize, arrest, declare war;
for some, this is not the case: apologize, promise, thank
1.2.Felicity conditions
 A speech act has to be performed in the correct
 1) in some cases, a procedure has to be followed exactly
and completely (e.g. baptizing);
 2) in others, certain expectations have to be met (one
can only welcome with a pleasant demeanour)
 3) a speech act must be performed in a sincere
manner: apologize, guarantee, vow . Effective only if
speakers mean what they say; believe, affirm - valid
only if the speakers are not lying
1.3.Speech acts and the legal order
 Since law is only “alive” in language, it is possible to
change legal relationships only by language
 The language of the law – instrument of speech acts: it
has performative function
 Legal order – gives meaning of a speech act to words
expressed orally or to a signed document
1.3.Speech acts and the legal order
 Ritual expressions – once of great importance in
realizing speech acts: if, in Ancient Rome or in
medieval England, if the claimant made even a small
mistake in reciting the required form of action, he lost
the case
 Under Roman law: without the word spondeo (I
promise) being pronounced, a contract did not arise
1.3.Speech acts and the legal order
 By a speech act, the legislator can sanction a legal rule,
a judge can take a judicial decision, or an individual
can enter into a contract
 A law comes to life when Parliament passes a bill and
the head of State promulgates it
 A valid judgment is produced by the judge declaring:
“On these grounds, the Court (…) awards the
mother/father custody of the minor child (…)”
1.3.1.Semiotics of law
 Semiotics – investigates the structure of all possible
sign systems and their role in the way we create
meaning in sociocultural behaviour
 Patterned human communication in all its modes
(sound, sight, touch, etc.) and in all contexts (dance,
film, politics, clothing etc.)
1.3.1.Speech Acts vs. Semiotic Acts
 History: a speech act was often reinforced by a
semiotic act
 Roman law: mancipatio – transfer consisting of a
symbolic exchange, in the presence of 5 witnesses,
where the acquirer placed his hand on the person
(slave), animal, or good comprising the object of the
act (manus = hand, capere= take, take hold of); after
pronouncing the ritual words, the acquirer placed a
coin on the plate of the scales to symbolise the selling
1.3.1.Speech acts vs. Semiotic Acts
 Modern examples: gavel struck by the chairman of a
meeting to confirm a decision taken
 Handshaking of negotiators on concluding agreement
 Today: speech acts increasingly replaced by semiotic
acts in matters of routine contracts (customer hands
over the items in a shop, receives the bill); “silent law”
Semiotic triangle
2. Communication theory
 Basic elements of communication:
 Sender: sends the message
 Channel: the medium used to transmit the message
 Receiver: reconstructs the message
 Feedback
Communication noise
Communication noise
Communication noise
 Environmental noise
 Physiological-impairment noise
 Semantic noise
 Syntactic noise
 Organizational noise
 Cultural noise
 Psychological noise
Environmental noise
 Noise that physically disrupts communication, such as
standing next to loud speakers at a party, or the noise
from a construction site next to a classroom making it
difficult to hear the professor.
Physiological-impairment noise
 Physical maladies that prevent effective
communication, such as actual deafness or blindness
preventing messages from being received as they were
Semantic noise
 Different interpretations of the meanings of certain
words. For example, the word "weed" can be
interpreted as an undesirable plant in a yard, or as a
euphemism for marijuana
Syntactical noise
 Mistakes in grammar can disrupt communication;
long and complicated sentences
Organizational noise
 Poorly structured communication can prevent the
receiver from accurate interpretation: e.g. unclear and
badly stated directions can make the receiver even
more lost
Cultural noise
 Stereotypical assumptions can cause
misunderstandings, such as unintentionally offending
a non-Christian person by wishing them a "Merry
Psychological noise
 Certain attitudes can also make communication
difficult. For instance, great anger or sadness may
cause someone to lose focus on the present moment.
Disorders such as autism may also severely hamper
effective communication.
2.1.Communication theory and law
 Legal language transmits messages relative to the law
 Through this language, we become familiar with the
content of laws and regulations, judgments and
administrative decisions, briefs and pleadings of
advocates, indictments of prosecutors etc.
 Obstacles, loss, distortion, and noise
 Examples: mistaken address, disappearance of the
message during transmission, failure to perceive the
message, absence of communicative competence on
the part of the sender, delay of the message
 Information loss: diminuition or impairment of
information, negative attitude on the part of the
 Distortion: faulty understanding or interpretation of
the message, due to its ambiguity or to the fact that an
intermediary has changed the content
 Noise – impeding elements mixed up with the
2.1.1.Interference in legal
 Examples: an application sent to an authority lacking
 A message may be delayed too long in transmission,
preventing delivery of a summons to the defendant
before the deadline
 Correct understanding of a message often presupposes
that the recipient has sufficient prior knowledge of the
 Problems in relations between lawyers and lay
individuals; in communication between lawyers from
two or several countries
2.1.1.Interference in legal
 Incomplete, unintelligible, or equivocal nature of the
 Change of information during transmission
 Signals that impede the message
 The recipient’s negative attitude Message
 Examples: witness statements imperfectly recorded in
case files or court minutes; acute in countries where
the trial is essentially based on documents prepared
during different phases of the proceedings (including
pre-trial investigation and preparation of the case)
 Hearing of witnesses sometimes takes place after a
long time, in which case witness recall lacks clarity
and completeness message
 Communication fails because the message is hermetic
 A legal message – sometimes formulated in such a way
that a lay individual can hardly understand it
 Archaic or foreign vocabulary can impede
understanding of the message
 “Contagious effect” of unintelligible words: the text as
a whole becomes unintelligible
 From the standpoint of citizens legal terminology is
abstract, and therefore obscure Message
 Paradoxically, foreign terminology can also improve the
understandability of a legal text, esp. in cases of creation of
new terminology
 The method often employed is to duplicate the legal words
that are still vague: they are followed in parentheses by
corresponding words from another, established legal
language, notably Latin
 The same method sometimes used in international
 To ensure that technical legal terms are understandable in
cases involving terms that are less established, or of which
one party at the convention has insufficient command Message
EU: a centralized legislative system based on regulations
and directives - required to ensure smooth functioning
EU legislation translated into all the official languages
EU legislation reflects the traditions of larger countries;
often difficult to understand for smaller countries with
different traditions, in spite of the fact that it is
translated into their languages Message
 Prime importance – the question of who constitutes
the target of legal language
 Where a legal text is intended for use only between
lawyers, the requirement of understandability less
emphasized than in texts intended for the general
 The borderline-not always clear; the guarantee of legal
protection requires that texts intended in the first
place for use by lawyers should be understandable to
every citizen message
 Natural language often allows two or more
interpretations of the same text arising from multiple
meanings of words (polysemy), or for syntactic reasons
 Interpreting a legal text – higly complex because
meaning does not depend only on linguistic
arguments message
 It is not enough to clarify the goal sought by the
legislator, or to establish that goal is in harmony with
the legal system overall
 It has to be resolved whether the text should properly
be interpreted in that way when taking into account
the circumstances of the case in question of Message Content in
 A witness statement can be recorded not only incompletely
but also erroneously
 Renewal of testimony before a higher court, long after the
incident, often changes the content of testimony
 Documents drawn up by the administrative authorities
rarely conform to the manner of expression of citizens;
administrative language makes the original message far
more abstract
 International relations: errors in legal translation;
intermediary language of Message Content in
 Latin America in the colonial period: statements by
the accused and witnesses – recorded in administrative
and judicial minutes in a “purified” form;
 only Spanish was used, in a legal-theological style
incomprehensible to anyone lacking a higher
 some of the accused and witnesses had no knowledge
of Spanish:
 an accused – often unable to defend himself,
 justice? impeding the message
 Irrelevant signals impeding the main message –
 The hubbub of the public present in the courtroom
may hamper communication
 Another type of “noise” – over-long documents
containing, apart from important information,
irrelevant information that tires the reader impeding the message
 Language rituals – oral and written – a kind of “noise”;
dictated by stylistic ideal fashionable in a society
 Latin of Antiquity – clear and concise
 Medieval legal Latin - highly complex; the differenc
originates from the divergence between the Romans’
concept of style and that of the ancient Germans: a
descriptive and repetitive langauge
 During the Baroque period, it was difficult to find the
real legal message in documents, beneath a wealth of
decoration Attitude of Recipient
 The problem of rhetoric: art of persuasion
 A convincing presentation: well constructed; includes
all necessary arguments in an appealing form
 In Nordic countries: advocates present their
arguments neutrally and simply
 In Central and Western Europe: classic methods of
rhetoric: hyperbole, metonymy, archaisms,
neologisms, foreign words, paradoxes, paraphrases,
word play, antithesis, surprise arguments, metaphors
etc. Attitude of Recipient
 The power of the word – reinforced by changes in tone
and by gesture
 Code of conduct in some legal cultures: the prosecutor
should become carried away as his address proceeds,
and his voice should rise in pitch; the impression
completed by body language (eyes, hands)
3. Strengthening the authority of the
Aims and methods of legal authority
Understanding and memorising legal rules
Citizens’ commitment to the law
Declarations of fundamental values
Textual style
Authority of the law and fear of sanctions
Sacred character of the law
Magical character of legal language
Humility before the court
Solemn forms of justice
Overcoming judicial uncertainty
3.1.Aims and methods of legal
 Legal language – instrument of social management
and control
 Tasks: to consolidate social structures, the legal order,
and taking of decisions on the basis of laws
 Language influeces the behaviour of an individual, a
section of the population or the people as a whole
 The authority of the law – strenghtened by legal
3.2.Understanding and memorising
legal rules
 In ancient societies: specific individuals charged with
commiting the laws to memory
 Mnemonics: 1) old laws would describe specific cases,
often highly colourful, that would become engraved in
the mind of those who heard them; 2) concise, often
rhythmic character of legal language
3.2.Understanding and memorising
legal rules
 A recent example: the French Civil Code; Stendhal
read it regularly, to improve his style as a novelist
 Article 2: The law provides only for the future: it has no
retroactive effect (La loi ne dispose que pour l’avenir;
elle n’a point d’effet retroactif)
3.4.Understanding and memorising
legal rules
 Complex modern society presupposes rules that are
precise and detailed. Laws and regulations only for
expert use – on the increase; incomprehensible to
 Method to inform the general public about legislation
– short bulletins that summarise the content of laws
and regulations in simple language; largley replaced
authentic laws and regulations as a source of
information for the general public
 Detailed information offered by modern computerised
means; free access to legislative databanks
3.5.Citizens’ commitment to the Law
 State power – takes the form of word power
 The most important category of power – written law
 In a democracy – the law possesses a function comparable to that
possessed, under a despotic government, by physical violence and fear
 In a democratic state, citizens should feel about law and justice as their
 Legal community – community of persuasion, not a community of
 Successful choice of words and style stimulate citizens to commit
themselves to law
3.6.Declarations of fundamental values
 Constitutions: equality, rights of citizens
 The importance of use of language in creating a new
impression of legal institutions (‘people’s democracy’,
‘people’s court’)
 Efforts to eliminate words that could be insulting:
“illegitimate child” > “natural child”
 Neutral terms referring to masculinity and femininity;
feminine form of various professions and titles
3.7.Textual style
 French legal language – petrified by 16th c: archaic
terminology and style; grounds for judgments – highly
complicated and incomprehensible
 Over-relaxed style should also be avoided
 Everyday words should be used with utmost caution
 Legal language - lags behind general language
 Laws should create a serious, but not over-solemn,
3.8.Personal Commitment by the
 Oath – the instrument through which it was sought to
ensure that citizen makes his own the orders of the
authorities and provisions of law by committing
himself to truth in his declarations
 The importance of oath - heightened by its religious
background and its ritual and solemn character; at the
same time – personal commitment
 Often – the oath had to be taken in the mother tongue
of the individual although the language may have been
3.8.Personal Commitment by the
 Soldiers of the imperial Austrian army took their oath
in their mother tongue although the language of the
army was German
 In 19th c. Hamburg, oaths were still taken in Low
German although High German had long been the
language of the city’s courts and public offices
3.9.Authority of the Law and Fear of
 Legal language – language of power; often categorical
 Laws do not contain justifications and they do not aim
to edify
 The style of legislative acts expresses the State’s
perception of its power: verbs that give orders or
3.9.Authority of the Law and Fear of
 The peremptory character of law – often invisible at
the language level: present indicative gives the
impression of a simple description of facts, though in
reality it involves and order: “During marriage, the
father and mother exercise their parental authority
jointly(Pendant le mariage, les pere et mere exercent
l’autorite parentale en commun), Swiss Civil Code, Art
 In judicial and administrative decisions, the exercise of
power expressed by words such as order, sentence etc.
3.9.Authority of the Law and Fear of
 Peremptoriness – not a feature of all use of legal
 Language of legal scholars and advocates – different; it
aims to convince the reader or listener
 Abundance of argument – typical of the latter
language, and coherence of the text is ensured by
words expressing a conclusion, such as thus, therefore
 Many quotations (metalanguage)
3.10.Sacred Character of the Law
 Ancient kings exercised a power at once temporal and
eternal ;Ten Commandments given to Moses by God;
contempt for the law and justice – contempt for God;
earthly sanctions - complemented by celestial ones
 Sacred character of the law – heightened by means of
language and ritual
 Preambles to laws have often indicated – and still do –
that the legislator has been empowered by the
Supreme Being
3.10.Sacred Character of the Law
 In preambles to Constitutions, the connection
between law and religion often remains visible: ‘Aware
of its responsibility before God and man…the German
people have assumed this Constitution (German
Constitution of 1949);
 The Swiss Federal Constitution begins: “In the name of
Almighty God…
3.10.Sacred Character of the Law
 Certain formulas employed by courts express the
concept according to which the Supreme Being is
present in legal proceedings: formulas for taking the
oath, where personal commitment is strenghtened by
3.10.Sacred Character of the Law
 In former times, the sacred character of the law-
evident also in private documents, notably wills
 Old Polish wills – no title; a popular opening: “In the
name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit,
Amen”, or: “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.
 The testator moved his act into the Holy domain and
professed his faith and confidence in salvation
 The will gained a celestial authority which ensured its
3.11.Magical Character of Legal Language
 Formerly: much of the power of legal language based
on its hypnotic rhythm and on magical elements
 Old German law - often in a highly rhythmical form;
magical formulas, whose melodious character affirmed
in listeners a depth of feeling that ensured respect for
legal rules
 Frequent binary formulas: das Recht stärken und das
Unrecht kränken; die Wahrheit sagen und die Lüge
 Chains of synonyms or quasi-synonyms
3.11.Magical Character of Legal Language
 17th and 18th c. Polish wills: ‘I leave, present, give and
 In the Middle Ages: according to Bavarian law, the
claimant was supposed, while reciting the formula of
the claim, to touch the defendant with a walnut
branch, a traditional magical object
 Magic of numbers (7: God created the world in 7 days)
 In France: Special criminal court: 7 judges; mandate of
the President: 7 years; limited company: 7 members;
7-day term important for conclusion of contracts
3.12. Legal Latin
 Latin – used to express technical legal concepts and
underline the authority of justice
 Middle Ages – court proceedings in Latin although the
parties did not understand it
 Judgments- given in Latin at the beginning of modern
 Administration of justice – an event beyond
comprehension from the standpoint of the people;
impressive and awsome
3.12. Legal Latin
 Today – Latin used during judicial ceremonies
(opening of sittings)
 Doorways and walls of courts – decorated with Latin
 Latin documents – Latin maxims
3.13.Other Legal Languages
 Apart from Latin, listeners can be impressed by the
use of an incomprehensible, but high status language
 Medieval England – law French
 Still today: arrival of judges in the courtroom
announced in French: Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
3.14.Humility before the Court
 Phrases expressing the humility of those seeking
justice and respectful body language also reinforce the
authority of the law
 Ritual compliments in addressing a judge or sending a
formal document to a court or public office
 In England: My Lord, Your Lordship, Your Honour
3.15.Solemn forms of justice
 Public authorities reinforced the authority of justice by
semiotic means
 In medieval Germany – the audience chamber of a
court always contained a painting of the Last
 Symbols of justice: the scales, the sword, the axe and
the blindfold
 Solemn legal language - means to arouse respect for
the law among citizens
3.14.Solemn forms of justice
 Signs that indicate the beginning and end of sittings:
ringing of church bells, allocation of space to
participants in the courtroom: judges on a rostrum,
prosecution and defence benches on opposite sides;
movements and gestures (who should stand while
speaking and when), special clothing of judges and
counsel (wigs, gowns), the solemnity of the building
(often “palace”)
3.14.Solemn forms of justice
 Traditionally, a courthouse built in imitation of a
Graeco-Roman temple; statute of the goddess of
justice; judge’s rostrum: placed on a platform, above
the parties and the public – the sacred origins and the
authority of the law
 French judge’s robe – wide sleeves – in early times, a
sign of belonging to the governing social classes who
merely gave orders
3.14.Solemn forms of justice
 Judicial rituals – judges enter in a particular order;
others have to stand; leave to speak – given by the
main judge; the main judge- silences the room by
raising a hand (raised hand - symbol of authority and
 Some phenomena – mid-way between semiotic and
linguistic: tone of voice, pauses in discourse, the
silence of the public; in written documents: page
layout of documents addressed to authorities,
reflecting the respect of sender to recipient
3.15. Overcoming judicial uncertainty
 Legal language - an instrument of deeds that can
completely change the course of a life or even bring an
end to a life (death penalty)
 The possibility of a mistake, issuing from a flawed
judgment, often real
 In the past – the judge’s mental load – relieved by the
belief that the Most High was present during the
 By language means, the judge was freed from
responsibility regarding flawed judgments
3.15. Overcoming judicial uncertainty
 In medieval England, the claimant had to present his
case by reciting a long and complicated formula. If
there was one mistake, he lost his case: a language
error was considered to be a sign from God that the
claimant was pleading an unjust cause
 In many countries, judges speak in the name of their
institution and by their authority: “On these grounds
the court…declares…”
3.15.Overcoming judicial uncertainty
 The official role and solemn, ritual language create a
feeling of certainty, leaving aside the subjective
element of the decision
4. Strengthening Lawyers’ Team Spirit
 Special language of a restricted group,
incomprehensible to outsiders; distancing strategy
 Strengthens group cohesion,
 A feeling of solidarity,
 Consolidates professional identity
 Expresses the commitment of lawyers to the values
and traditions of their profession
 Latin and legal jargon – a special value
4.1. Latin as a cohesive factor in the legal
 Latin – the language of the legal profession in the past;
comprehensible only to the social elites; consolidated
lawyers’ team spirit and their power – the vulgus was
excluded from legal communication
 Today – legal documents should be comprehensible to
the general public
 Legal scholars still cultivate Latin in their publications;
Latin quotations
 Latin maxims – “much-loved folklore” of lawyers
4.2. Legal jargon: the lawyers’ secret language
 Jargon differs from legal language in that it expresses
 Subjectivity, fantasy, comedy: strengthens group ties
between lawyers
 Institutional jargon
5. Linguistic policy: minority protection vs.
Language unification
 Linguistic policy aims to preserve or to change either
the relationship between two or more languages, or
the properties of a single language
 Such policy – sometimes protective, sometimes an
exercise of power
 The exercise of power requires consolidation of the
position of the dominant language
 The functioning of government presupposes linguistic
unification of the country
5.1. Minority protection vs. Language Unification
 Idea that only linguistic unity can ensure that citizens
understand a legal message
 The central power often aims to change linguistic
conditions in a country, so as to strengthen its
 Centralised states endeavor to impose a single legal
language for the whole country
5.1. Minority protection vs. Language Unification
 Unifying the judicial and administrative language has
often radically influenced the linguistic conditions of a
country: it has led to the total abandonment of
languages previously spoken
 A single national language – appropriate for
strengthening national identity and preventing the
dissolution of the State
 The population seeks to imitate the language spoken
by the authorities and social advancement is only
possible by adopting that language
5.1. Minority protection vs. Language Unification
 In contrast to a linguistic policy satisfying the needs of
the exercise of power – a linguistic policy that aims to
protect threatened languages
5.1.1.Example: Finnish and Swedish in
 Official languages in Finland: Finnish and Swedish
 92.5% Finnish speakers, 5.7% Swedish speakers
 Many Finns – bilingual; Swedish – obligatory in
Finnish schools
 Swedish in Finland – under strong Finnish influence
5.1.1.Example: Finnish and Swedish in Finland
 12th-19th c. Finland formed part of the Kingdom of
 Adopted Swedish legal culture
 Swedish – gaining ground in Finland
 Finnish speakers who gained entry to the higher social
classes adopted Swedish
 Swedish-speaking population lives in the coastal
towns, intermingled with the Finnish-speaking
 The sole official language - Swedish
5.1.1.Example: Finnish and Swedish in Finland
 Sweden ceded Finland to Russia in 1809
 Alexander I gave autonomous status to Finland
 Finnish representatives proposed during a session of
the Finnish Diet in 1809 that the official language
should continue to be Swedish; fear that the Tsar
might introduce Russian as the official language
 In 1820’s documents began to be drawn up in Finnish
 Equal status of Finnish recognized 1902
5.1.1.Example: Finnish and Swedish in Finland
 The first Constitution of independent Finland of 1919
and the new Constitution of 1999 both prescribed that
both languages should have equal status
 Finnish and Swedish legislative texts have the same
value and should be published in both languages
5.1.1.Example: Finnish and Swedish in Finland
 19th c. Swedish language laws reflected a power policy
aimed at ensuring the cohesion of the Kingdom of
 Today: linguistic equality in favour of Swedish speakers
who constitute a small minority – protective language
6. The cultural task of legal language
 1. Preserving the linguistic heritage
 2. Developing the language
6.1. Preserving the linguistic heritage
 Legal language – often archaic; reason: laws, notably
civil laws, often remain in force for decades,
sometimes centuries; terms of these laws remain in
use, in spite of being old-fashioned
 Ossification of legal language – negative from the
standpoint of understanding it; positive from the
standpoint of preserving the cultural heritage
6.1. Preserving the linguistic heritage
 The conservative nature of legal language allows a
clearer view of linguistic evolution than ordinary
 Grammar, vocabulary and style of former epochs live
on in legal language
 Foreign influences
 Legal language shows the factors forming a country’s
linguistic culture over different epochs
6.1. Preserving the linguistic heritage
 The archaic character of legal language symbolises the
uninterrupted continuity of a country’s culture, and
links the present to the past
6.2. Developing the language
 Legal language – important from the standpoint of
ordinary language
 Middle Ages – rules of orthography of the written
language – often set by the language of public offices
and courts of law, representing the country’s central
 France: the royal chancellery and the parlements
greatly contributed to establishing the grammar and
vocabulary of the French language; legislative style
influenced the style of ordinary language
6.2. Developing the language
 Legislative language spreads neologisms into ordinary
language; after a new term is adopted into a law, all
public offices and courts use the term, so it rapidly
appears in thousands of documents read by citizens; it
may later acquire a meaning going beyond the borders
of legal usage
6.2. Developing the language
 Efforts should be made to improve the quality of legal
language, by keeping in mind the value of this
language from the standpoint of linguistic culture
Tensions between Cultural Heritage and
Democracy: Legal Greek
 Evolution of Greek: written use goes back to 15th c.
 Spoken language changes over time
 In Greece, a variant based on classical Greek used as a
written language
 With the war of liberation against Turkey in 19th c. –
the need to create a modern national language
Legal Greek
 Kathaverusa, based on a “purified” form of the spoken
language, created; different from spoken language;
complicated system of writing
 Some writers began to use a variant based directly on
the spoken language: Dimotiki, Demotic Greek
 1970’s: fierce struggles between Kathaverusa and
Transition to Demotic in Practical
 Kathaverusa – legal language of Greek after
 Documents drawn up in Demotic considered void by
 Constitution, major codes translated into Demotic
 After 1967 Kathaverusa reached its peak; the military
government backed up this variant; with the fall of the
military government, the position of Kathaverusa
Transition to Demotic in Practical
 1975 Constitution – no provisions on the official
 Supporters of Demotic linked the use of Demotic to
the principles of equality
 The use of Demotic spread in courts and legislation
 The objective according to which the written language
should be developed towards the spoken language in
order to advance democracy and ensure its
comprehension may come into collision with values
underlining the importance of linguistic heritage
which should be preserved
 Another example: bokmål (‘written language’) and
nyorsk (‘new Norwegian’) in Norway: rivalry still in

Legal Language as a Language for Special Purposes