Suspicion as an argumentative move
Semantic analysis of a pivotal concept in banks’ anti-money laundering argumentative activities
In order to comply with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) laws, financial intermediaries are being engaged with unprecedented communicative activities, mainly oriented at detecting suspicious activities which must be reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit. The polysemous notion of ‘suspicion’ is pivotal to these communicative activities and needs to be clarified in order to establish to what extent argumentation is involved in their fulfillment. To this purpose, we apply the method of semantic analysis developed within Congruity Theory bringing to light the different semantic values of the verb ‘to suspect’ and its lexical derivates in a corpus of ordinary English; then we compare these meanings with the actual uses of this verb in the international and national AML laws. Amongst the numerous factors contributing to the polysemy of this word, we focalize on the difference emerged between an argumentative value of ’to suspect’ and another meaning in which suspicion is reduced to a mere hunch. This suggests that there exist different types of suspicion acts which are more or less argumentative. Interestingly, anti-money laundering international standards and some national implementations seem to admit suspicions at different argumentative degrees, entailing different levels of critical assessment expected from the financial intermediary. We also identify important implications for bank’s anti-money laundering activities deriving from the different semantic traits emerged in the analysis. We conclude the paper by eliciting from the outcome of the semantic analysis a number of questions that will guide the next steps of an ongoing research project in which Swiss banks’ AML practices are investigated from an argumentative perspective.
Keywords: (to) suspect, argumentation, mere hunch, money laundering prevention, plausible reasoning, congruity theory, counter-terrorism financing, Swiss banking sector, reasonable suspicions, semantic analysis
Published online: 12 February 2015
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