Language and Occupation

The exam might ask you to look at data from any occupational group, so it's useful to have some prior knowledge on at least a few of the 'big' ones. These include: law, education, the Church, sports. Each one has its own specialist language and conventions...

If you have a job, or talk to people with jobs, why not observe the language being used? (you'll probably know more about it than this unemployed writer).

Language and Power

This is also found in ENB1. How a person tries to impose their authority shapes the language they use. It is an important thing to consider if you decide to do the language and occupation question because it is a common feature. Managers/doctors/police officers need to have authority over workers/members of the public.

Some ways that power is created is through:

Prosodic and paralinguistic features - think of a headteacher: using a serious tone and having a serious expression.

Interruptions and topic management - topic management means bringing conversation back to the topic. This is often done by interruptions. For example, in a classroom, a teacher will often interrupt a student who is struggling to answer a question.

Use of imperatives (commands) - Obvious technique - "Do this!"

Formal register - A formal register is often adapted to make the speaker seem respectable. It can also create a distance between the speaker and listener - for example, teachers rarely use colloquial lexis in a class room.

Negative politeness - Use of over politeness and an extremely high register turns into negative politeness, where such a distance is created between speaker and listener, that the speaker becomes cold.

Hidden directives - Police officers use these often. For example: "Can you please step out of the car, sir?" The imperative, "get out of the car," is turned into a polite interrogative; however, you have no choice but to obey.

Field specific lexis / Semantic fields create a sense of power because the speaker is not "lowering" their language for the benefit of others. In law, for instance, archaic/Latin lexis is used. It again creates a gap between speaker/listener.

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Legalese is a word for the Language of the Law.

To quote David Mellinkoff in The Language of the Law (1963), “The law is a profession of words.” Whether it is government legislation, classroom activities or documents of restriction on daily life, the words of the law are the law.

Because of this, Legalese needs to be as clear and unambiguousas possible. The preoccupation with preciseness and consistent linguist interpretation has led to the language of law being characterised by wordiness, overly complicated syntax and high register.

Examples of wordiness:

  • annul and set aside = annul
  • entirely and completely remove = remove

The style has developed through time and many places...and because of this, the lexis is characterised by a range of different languages, including:

  • Old and Middle English (aforesaid, thenceforth, heretofore)
  • Latin (corpus delicti, quasi, vis major)
  • French (demurrer, fee simple)
  • Religion has a large influence on the language: "to have and to hold", "each and every", "null and void".

Similarly, many common collocated phrases are derived from a combination of languages. "Will and testament" is Latin combined with Anglo-Saxon. (If you're re-sitting, you'll have an advantage here, having looked at Language Development...)

Many common words have uncommon meanings (function shifting):

  • action = law suit
  • presents = legal documents

Syntax, like lexis, is complex and sentences are filled with subordinate clauses.

Traditionally, legal documents have a complete lack of punctuation besides parentheses. ( ) This is perhaps due to punctuation being originally used to help a person reading aloud. Written documents of the law were never read aloud and so punctuation was redundant. Also, punctuation can change the meaning of the words slightly, and lead to ambiguity...

Certain word classes are common:

  • modal verbs (shall, may)
  • hypernyms (or a "umbrella term" for a group of nouns, e.g. vehicle)
  • hyponyms (or a specific noun, narrower than the general term, e.g. agricultural tractor, moped)

Phonological features, such as repetition and alliteration come from a time before printing and general literacy, when phrases needed to be learnt by heart: "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Problems with Legalese

Ironically, the preoccupation with clarity can often make it very difficult to understand, especially for the general public. Only those who are trained in law can read it, and therefore, lawyers are in a great position - they can charge what they like, when in reality, all they are doing is "translating".

Some people argue that in a democracy,the law should be accessible to everyone. There have been changes in the language of law, like in 1999, in the UK:

Old New
writ claim form
affidavit statement of truth
in camera in private
subpoena witness summons

These changes have only occurred in the Civil Court (people vs people) and not the Crown Court (Government vs people), however.

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No matter what occupation you look at, you'll find jargon. It's the word for specialist vocabulary of an occupation.

Jargon can be positive, in that it allows people within the occupation to communicate quickly and efficiently.

It can be negative, however:

  • As seen earlier, it can be a way of creating power and superiority: used to exclude people outside of the occupation, and showing a lack of sensitivity to the audience.
  • Adverts in particular use unnecessarily complex scientific jargon as a way of trying to sell products. Ever watched a shampoo advert or facial cream "containing x, y and z!" What are x, y and z? The general viewer can only take the word of the advert that these are useful...
  • Abstract vocabulary can be vague. Saying, "We need to meet targets!" might sound fashionable ("targets" is a current "buzz" word) but what does it really mean?
  • Politicians often use euphemisms to distort their speeches, when referring to sensitive topics like war.
  • Unnecessarily elaborate constructions.
  • Passive voice.

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