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The limits of plain legal language: understanding the comprehensible style in law

  • Zsolt Ződi (a1)

Abstract

The comprehensible style of legal texts seems to be a predominantly linguistic problem. This is how the plain-legal-language movements present it. But, while plain-language statutes have been on the agenda for decades in every civilised country, laws still become more and more complicated. The paper attempts to explain this controversy. First, it argues that comprehensibility has more aspects beyond the linguistic or stylistic one. Sometimes it is the linguistically simplest texts that raise the most serious comprehensibility problems. The paper refers to two pieces of corpus linguistic research that provide evidence that vocabulary and grammar in themselves do not explain the incomprehensibility of the legal texts. Second, for a more subtle handling of the comprehensibility problem, the paper offers a framework of three typical pragmatic situations – the processual, the problem-solving and the compliance settings – where comprehensibility problems arise in different ways. The conclusion of the paper is that, contrary to the usual explanation that the main reason for incomprehensibility is that, in law, clarity and accuracy can be only employed at each other's expense, it is rather the systemic and interpretive character of law and the growing importance of technical rules that hinder the understanding of legal texts.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. E-mail: zsolt.zodi@uni-corvinus.hu

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The limits of plain legal language: understanding the comprehensible style in law

  • Zsolt Ződi (a1)

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