An investigation of the lexico-grammatical profile of English legal- lay language

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The article presents a study on the lexico-grammar of the genre ofEnglish legal-lay language (Tiersma 1999), using the English subcorpus of theCorIELLS corpus (Busso forthcoming). The study explores four grammaticalconstructions (in Goldberg 2006’s Construction Grammar sense): nominalisationsheading prepositional phrase attachments, modal verb constructions, participialreduced relative constructions, and passive constructions. Specifically, we usecollostructional analysis (Stefanowitsch 2013), followed by a vocabulary analysisusing English core vocabulary as a reference (Brezina and Gablasova 2015), anda comparative frequency analysis with corpora of legal language and general-domain written prose. Results of this first part of the study foreground how legal-lay language is quantitatively different from both neighbouring genres, suggestingthat it might be considered a “blended” genre. We further explore the data in termsof accessibility for speakers, using readability metrics and a survey on Englishparticipants. Both methods show that legal-lay language is at an intermediatelevel of complexity between legal jargon and general-domain prose; however, wefurther note that readability metrics generally underestimate speakers’ ability tocomprehend legal-lay language.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-184
JournalLanguage and Law/Linguagem e Direito
Issue number1
Early online date22 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright (c) 2022, Lucia Busso. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License [].


  • Construction Grammar
  • Legal lay language
  • Italian
  • English
  • Quantitative corpus linguistics


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