“If it be the case that the appellants are under such an obligation…”: A comparative study of conditionals in English legal discourse

. page 27-40. EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, (2013)


Legal communication is an area where English has increasingly been employed by both native and non-native speakers. In an attempt to carry out a comparative study, the aim of this paper is to focus on language variation in the genre of judgments. For this purpose, a key feature of judicial texts, namely conditionality, was studied. On the basis of a collection of recent EU and Irish judgments, a large sample of conditional subordinators was analysed. Data showed that conditional clauses mainly express what Quirk et al. (1985) call direct open conditions. More specifically, there is evidence that conditionals occur in four outstanding contexts: the expression of obligations; the formulation of conditions under which permissions are granted; the laying down of prohibitions; and the expression of the judge’s recommendations. Finally, an important role is also played by the second category of direct condition identified by Quirk at al. (1985), i.e. hypothetical conditions. Taken together, data appear to suggest that language-relevant findings are indicative of interesting differences also to be read in terms of underlying legal culture.

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