Legalities of Legal English - Choose a Variant and Use Connectors
11 November 2019
The theme of this autumn’s second mentoring breakfast was “Legal English”, and the lecture was given by our own language experts, Translators Outi Talola and Irene Hytönen. During the lecture, Outi and Irene discussed English grammar and the stylistic aspects of legal English. The trainees attending the lecture were given information on the characteristics and challenges of legal English and the typical mistakes that Finnish writers make when writing English. In addition, the trainees were given valuable tips on how to write fluent and unambiguous English.
During the lecture, Outi and Irene discussed the most important factors that should be considered when writing English, and these have been listed below:
Variant & consistency. Since there are multiple variants of English (for instance American English and British English), it is important to choose one variant and use it consistently. In fact, consistency was highlighted throughout the lecture, as it is important in any text, and this applies not only to language variants, but also to terminology. Thus, remember to always use the same term for the same thing and to be consistent.
Grammar rules. Another important point brought up during the lecture was the differences between Finnish and English grammar. In fact, when writing English, one should forget Finnish grammar and its rules because they differ substantially from those used in English when it comes to aspects such as punctuation and word order.
Clarity & unambiguity. When writing legal texts, it is good to remember that although one of the characteristics of legal language is its heaviness and complexity, one should not intentionally use difficult words – on the contrary, it is usually wise to use simple and unambiguous alternatives.
The above instructions will go a long way, but in order to stand out as an excellent English writer, one should also remember to use connectors and consider the target audience, as is explained in more detail below:
Connectors (e.g. furthermore, subsequently, however, in fact) make the text flow and tie sentences together. Although connectors are widely used in English, they are not as common in Finnish, which is why Finnish writers often forget to use them. However, connectors should be used when writing English, as they are a way of demonstrating your language skills and command of the Anglo-American writing style.
Considering the target audience is also an expression of the writer being familiar with the Anglo-American writing style. In fact, an Anglo-American reader expects the most relevant part of each sentence, paragraph, and text to be expressed right at the beginning and the details to follow after that, which should be taken into account when writing English.
Even though there are countless grammar rules and exceptions in the English language and using the Anglo-American writing style may seem difficult, Outi and Irene ended their lecture with an encouraging message: “Remember that writing is a skill and everyone can become a better writer through practice!”
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