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Corpus-based critical discourse analysis as a method of exploring underlying ideologies and self-representation strategies in legal texts

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

  • Amanda Potts
  • Anne Lise Kjær
Publication date09/2014
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventCADAAD 2014 - Elte, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 1/09/20143/09/2014


ConferenceCADAAD 2014


Legal language is an integral and foundational party of our social reality, but it is underrepresented in interdisciplinary, critical linguistic analyses. This is perhaps because language is more objective and formulaic than media texts, which can be more subjective and emotive (Kjær and Palsbro, 2008). In this paper, I demonstrate how a corpus-based critical discourse analysis of legal language can expose hidden traces of the underlying ideologies of text creators, while demonstrating how identity can be performed in legal texts.

Research is based on a half-million-word corpus of annual reports by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Key semantic domain analysis (Rayson, 2008) is used to identify the most salient themes in the legal texts compared to reference corpora of general written English, indicating areas for closer analysis.

Results show that legal language can be subjective and emotive. The semantic field of ‘crime’ is an expected key, but concordance analysis shows ideological skew in discursive construction of crimes/victims. For instance, ‘rape’/‘sexual assault’ co-occurs with female victims, whereas ‘torture’/‘outrages upon personal dignity’ co-occurs with males. Automated semantic categorization of collocates of Tribunal also indicate differing patterns in self-presentation. Early reports are dominated by discourse of progress/achievement while later reports are concerned with reputation/global perception.

Critical analyses of large bodies of legal language are relatively rare, but extremely culturally relevant. Legal descriptions of crimes/perpetrators/victims are powerful and sometimes subjectively skewed. Further, self-representation of powerful legal bodies and their conceptualizations of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in establishing/enforcing law will have lasting impacts on human rights.