Making legal language clear to legal laypersons

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


It is widely accepted that the legal sub-language-the language of the written law, court discussions, and legal documents-needs rephrasing in order to make it understandable to legal laypersons. Adler (2012) holds that this is possible: legal texts can be rephrased in plain language (rather than in "legalese"). The features that need rephrasing in order to make the legal language understandable to legal laypersons concern both the rich technical vocabulary of the legal sub-language and its syntactic complexity. There is, moreover, a third feature that makes the legal sub-language impenetrable for laypersons-implicit intertextual and interdiscursive links. It is the combination of these three features-the rich technical vocabulary, the syntactic complexity, and implicit intertextuality (intertextual links presented without lucid reference to their explanations)-that makes the legal sub-language impenetrable. The legal sub-language is, naturally, the language used by legal experts in order to communicate with one another. Obviously, legal experts are supposed to know the relevant legal background knowledge of legal texts they work with; therefore, like other human communicators, authors of legal texts imply legal background knowledge, including the background knowledge relevant to their messages, rather than present it explicitly. The point of this analysis is that it is this implied professional knowledge which makes it hard for legal laypersons to understand legal texts.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLegal Pragmatics
EditorsBarbara Kryk-Kastovsky, Dennis Kurzon
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9789027200716
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NamePragmatics and Beyond New Series

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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