Can contracts be both plain and precise?

Siebörger, I. and Adendorff, R.D. (2011) Can contracts be both plain and precise? Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 29 (4). pp. 483-504. ISSN 1607-3614

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Abstract

One argument against the use of plain language in legal documents is that it is impossible to convey legal meanings in plain language with the same precision as in specialist legal discourse (Hunt 2003). We tested this claim by redrafting an extract from a lease agreement into plain English in three stages, producing three versions of the extract in progressively plainer English. We submitted these with the original lease agreement to a senior advocate to elicit his opinion on whether the plain-language versions of the extract are equivalent to the original in legal force. Various differences between the versions are analysed using lexical semantics and Systemic Functional Grammar (as described in Halliday and Matthiessen 2004). This analysis reveals that the redrafted versions could easily be altered to eliminate the difference between them and the original extract, and that ‘plain language’ as conceived by redrafters of official documents may be easy for non-experts to read, but more difficult to read for non-experts. This demonstrates that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to readability is often not tenable, and that plain-language activists can learn much from research (such as Street 1993) which asserts the existence of a plurality of literacies.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:This is the unreviewed manuscript of an article originally submitted to Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies and whose final and definitive form has been published in Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2011, 29(4): 483-504 © 2011 copyright NISC (Pty) Ltd. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies is available online at: http://www.nisc.co.za/journals?id=9
Uncontrolled Keywords:contract lease agreement plain language
Subjects:K Law > KT Asia and Eurasia, Africa, Pacific Aria, and Antarctica > Africa > South Africa, Republic of
P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English Language and Linguistics
ID Code:2434
Deposited By: Ian Siebörger
Deposited On:05 May 2012 14:24
Last Modified:05 May 2012 14:24
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