Are law reports an 'agile' or an 'uptight' register? Tracking patterns of historical change in the use of colloquial and complexity features

Douglas E Biber, Bethany Gray

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCorpus-based Research on Variation in English Legal Discourse
EditorsTeresa Fanego, Paula Rodriguez-Puente
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Pages149-169
Number of pages21
Volume91
ISBN (Electronic)9789027202352
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

Keywords

  • Economy
  • Language change
  • Legal discourse
  • Popularization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Education
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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    Biber, D. E., & Gray, B. (2019). Are law reports an 'agile' or an 'uptight' register? Tracking patterns of historical change in the use of colloquial and complexity features. In T. Fanego, & P. Rodriguez-Puente (Eds.), Corpus-based Research on Variation in English Legal Discourse (Vol. 91, pp. 149-169). John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1075/scl.91.07bib