Legal Language and American Law: Authority, Morality, and Linguistic Ideology



We return now to the themes with which the book began, with the added
vantage given by our in-depth examination of similarities and differences
across the classrooms of this study. First, we have seen that context matters to
the understanding of law school training in a number of ways. In the classroom,
aspects of the immediate context are crucial in the dynamics that create more
and less inclusive discussions. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the
demographic backgrounds of students and professors, the size and linguistic
structuring of the class itself, and the status, history, location, and culture of the
law school. Contextual cues in class also point the way to the shared epistemol-
ogy that is conveyed in all of these classrooms, despite surface differences in dis-
course style. Finally, some kinds of context are ignored or omitted, creating a
blind spot in the understanding of social conflict taught to law students.
This brings us to a second important finding: the way legal language in this
society shares with capitalist epistemology more generally a kind of double edge.
In the second section of the chapter, I discuss this phenomenon, which carries with
it both a powerful potential and a potential danger. However, as the third section
of this conclusion argues, in the legal arena we see the primacy of language and
linguistic ideology in mediating this double edge. It is in and through the inculca-
tion of approaches to text, reading, and language that the legal version of
commodification—of a social structural sleight of hand—takes place. On the one
hand, this means that legal language is deeply imbricated with social power in
multiple ways. On the other hand, the independent importance of this linguistic
level means that the process of legal training in particular, and of legal translation
in general, cannot be analyzed as a mere reflex of power dynamics. Certainly social
power has an impact at the many levels delineated here. But we can also see that.

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