A History Of The Languages Of Law

Peter M. Tiersma

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

A History Of The Languages Of Law


All legal systems develop certain linguistic features that differ from those of ordinary language. Lawyers and judges may develop language that is entirely different from ordinary speech. Typically, the legal profession uses language that contains a substantial amount of technical vocabulary and a number of distinct (often archaic) features. As a result, the speech, and to a greater extent, the texts produced by such legal systems may be difficult for the lay public to understand. This article explores the history of the world's major legal languages, focusing on the two most widely dispersed legal traditions around the world: the civil law system that arose in continental Europe and the common law which developed in England. After considering the legacy of Roman law, it discusses the influence of Latin and French on legal language, the jus commune and the survival of indigenous law, codification, legal English around the world, and the globalization of legal language.

Keywords: legal systems; legal language; Europe; civil law; common law; England; jus commune; codification; globalization

Article.  6443 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics

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