Forensic Linguistics 4: The Language of Government and Business


Course Objective

In this course, students will learn how to analyse and advise in cases
where the language of government or business has turned out to be
problematic. We will discuss examples of bureaucratic language and
ambiguous wordings that can lead to misunderstandings and legal
disputes. Students will critically assess actual court cases and apply
their own analysis to the texts at issue.

By the end of the course, students will have a grasp of what linguistic
and discourse analytic methods (from pragmatics to corpus linguistics)
to apply, depending on the nature of the language problem. They will
search for problematic texts as well as related literature to help with
the analysis of these texts.

Because every case is different, students will be exposed to a range of
different texts and methods.

Course Content

We will examine problems including the language of insurance policy
documents; the “Plain Meaning Rule” in legislation; trademark disputes;
product warnings; the language of wills and government documents
required when someone dies.

Theoretical ground covered will include “Taxonomic Hierarchies” in
semantics; Narrative analysis (Labov & Waletsky); the Problem/Solution
structure in texts (Hoey); the transition from orality to literacy
(Danet and Bogoch).

Methods applied and criticised will include: corpus analysis (Antconc);
lexical density, Flesch readability scores and other quantitative
methods; grammatical metaphor.

Teaching Methods

Weekly seminars

Method of Assessment

An assignment of 4,000 – 5,000 words consisting of a data-based project


Shuy, R. (1998). Bureaucratic language in government and business.
Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. ISBN: 9780878406975

Shuy, R., 2008, Fighting over Words: Language and Civil Law Cases.
Oxford: Oxford
University Press. ISBN: 9780195328837

Target Audience

Students of the research master Humanities

General Information

Course Code L_NCMPLIN003
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 500
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. F. van der Houwen
Examiner dr. F. van der Houwen
Teaching Staff dr. S.A. Blackwell

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar