Modals and Modality in Legal Discourse: A Corpus-Based Sociosemiotic Interpretation

Modals and Modality in Legal Discourse: A Corpus-Based Sociosemiotic Interpretation

Le Cheng (City College and School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, the People's Republic of China, Hangzhou, China) and Xin Wang (School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, the People's Republic of China, Hangzhou, China)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2017010103

Abstract

In this study, parallel corpora of the Civil and Commercial Laws and the English translation of the People's Republic of China (hereinafter P. R. C.) are built. Modal verbs in the legal texts are examined from the perspective of genre analysis and semantics. Moreover, a comparative study on different variations of legal genre is adopted. This study further explores the findings from a sociosemiotic perspective in terms of the distinctions on modal verbs and modality between different variations of legal genre. The authors have noticed the disparity of modal verbs in different situations depends on distinct functions of situations. Although linguistic and textual analyses are significant in exploring issues of legal texts, it is not enough to linger within these domains.
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Introduction

Legal texts serve as a vehicle carrying the concepts of laws, and they are difficult to be understood by laypersons (Orts, 2015). Legal texts, within the umbrella of legal genre, consist of various registers: laws and regulations, cases, judgments, reports, etc. Each of them bears different contexts of texts, of situations and of cultures (Martin & Rose, 2014, pp. 9-10). As Swales has stated as early as 1990, genre should not be regarded as “a formulaic way of constructing” (Swales, 2001, p. 33). Scholars have attempted to define genre. From the perspective of Biber and Conrad, register, genre and style are three different aspects on varieties of texts (Biber & Conrad, 2009, p. 14), and the relationship between the three is not stratified. Furthermore, register is defined as “the combination of linguistic analysis with analysis of the situation of use of the variety” while genre shares similarity with register except linguistic analysis in genre focuses on “the conventional structures used to construct a complete text in the variety” (Biber & Conrad, 2009, p. 14). On the contrary, Martin and Rose argue that genre is “staged, goal oriented social processes” (Martin & Rose, 2014, p. 6). The idea of Martin and Rose is approximate to the view held by Halliday, who does not take “genre” into account; instead, he considers “a text is an event whose meanings are exchanged in social systems” (Halliday, 1978, 2001, 2007), and he uses the term “generic structure” (Halliday, 1978, p.134) instead of genre. Moreover, he considers that generic structure is beyond the linguistic system and it projects a high-level semiotic structure (Halliday, 1978, p. 134). From this stance, register and genre are stratified, and the former is entailed by the latter. Besides, Bhatia states that genre analysis can be viewed from the real world perspective, the socio-cognitive perspective, the analytical perspective (Swales adopts this perspective) and the pedagogical perspective (Bhatia, 2002). Later on, he proposes that genre studies of texts from professional domains should be of interdiscursivity and involve text-internal and text-external analyses (Bhatia, 2007, 2010).

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