Chapter published in:Corpus-based Research on Variation in English Legal Discourse
Edited by Teresa Fanego and Paula Rodríguez-Puente
[Studies in Corpus Linguistics 91] 2019
► pp. 149–169
Are law reports an ‘agile’ or an ‘uptight’ register?
Tracking patterns of historical change in the use of colloquial and complexity features
Language change is a natural evolutionary process, and as a result it is reasonable to expect that all registers will undergo historical change to some extent. While some registers adopt linguistic innovations readily, others resist such changes and exhibit more conservative patterns of change. This chapter considers the extent to which law reports have adopted linguistic innovations observed in other written registers (fiction, newspapers, and science prose). The analysis considers features related to two competing factors influencing historical change in written texts: popularization (the adoption of colloquial features associated with the need to write texts for a large and general population of readers) and economy (increases in the use of phrasal complexity features to create informationally-dense texts for specialist readers). The analysis shows that compared to other written registers, law reports have been relatively conservative and resistant to historical change. These results are interpreted relative to the situational and communicative characteristics of law reports.
Keywords: language change, legal discourse, popularization, economy
Published online: 06 February 2019
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