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Language as a social practice: Constructing (a)symmetries in legal discourse


University of Bonn, 7-8 September 2023
Convener: Elisabeth Reber, University of Bonn

The book of abstracts including the current program is available here.

Research on language and the law has focused on the social organization of language use (see Conley et al. 2019), specifically; 1) how participants construct social actions and engage in sequences of actions at the courtroom (e.g., Atkinson & Drew 1979, Seuren 2019). 2) how socio-cultural norms frame lexical choices and thus put constraints on the semantic-pragmatic implications of the law (e.g., Danet 1980, Pasa & Morra 2018). 3) how social factors (e.g. gender, social class) may correlate with linguistic and interactional practices by participants in legal settings and how linguistic and interactional practices may serve to construct social relations (e.g., O’Barr & Atkins 1980, Jacobi & Schweers 2017). More recently, there has been a heightened interest in 4) how to improve the intelligibility of legal texts for lay people and socially diverse target groups (Schmallenbach & Vogel 2022).
Against the backdrop of this prior research, this workshop aims to take stock of current research which studies language use in legal settings as a social practice, specifically exploring how asymmetries may be constructed and displayed through linguistic, interactional, and / or discursive resources and across “participation frameworks” (Goffman 1979) at the micro level and how these asymmetries on the micro level might provide us with insights about the macro level (Conley at al. 2019: 9; cf. also Reber 2021). Bringing together scholars with a background in linguistics and law, the workshop seeks to showcase a diverse perspective on language, law and society, and explore the way forward of the interdisciplinary study of legal discourse at Bonn and beyond.

Atkinson, J.M. & Drew, P. (1979). Order in Court: The Organisation of Verbal Interaction in Judicial Settings. London: Macmillan.

Conley, J. O'Barr, W. M. & Conley Riner, R. (2019). Just Words: Law, Language, and Power. 3rd ed. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Danet, D. (1980). “Baby" or "fetus"? Language and the construction of reality in a manslaughter trial. Semiotica, 32, 187–219.

Goffman, E. (1979). Footing. Semiotica, 5(1-2), 1–29.

Jacobi, T. & Schweers, D. (2017). Justice, Interrupted: The Effect of Gender, Ideology, and Seniority at Supreme Court Oral Arguments. Virginia Law Review, 103(7), 1379–1496

O’Barr, W. & Atkins, B. K. (1980). “Women’s language” or “powerless language”? In S. McConnell-Ginet, R. Borker & N. Furman (Eds.), Women in Language and Society (pp. 93–109). New York: Praeger.

Pasa, B. & Morra, L. (2018). Implicit legal norms. In J. Visconti (Ed.), Handbook of Communication in the Legal Sphere (pp. 141–168). Berlin/New York: de Gryuter Mouton.

Reber, E. (2021). Quoting in Parliamentary Question Time. Exploring Recent Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmallenbach, J & Vogel, F. (2022). The Effort for More Understandable Laws in and at the German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. Results from a Legal Linguistic Evaluation Project. International Journal of Language and Law, 11, 18–35.

Seuren, L. M. (2019). Questioning in Court: The construction of direct examinations. Discourse Studies, 21(3), 340–357.


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