Themes, hyperthemes and the discourse structure of British legal texts

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Although to a lay person legal texts are notoriously difficult to read, some semblance of order may be found, especially in the thematic structure of such texts. Thematic structure here coincides with what has been called in the literature ' ‘thematic progression’ or ' ‘theme dynamics', and refers to the cohesive link set up by the themes the initial element or elements-of the component sentences of a text. The predominant type of thematic progression in legal texts involves the hypertheme of the particular text, which is derived from two sources: the set of expectations produced by the specific genre of text, and the title of the text, if there is one. This model is applied to five British legal texts, each of which represents one particular genre: a will, a deed, a contract, a court order, and a statute. Since the texts do have a cohesive structure, as shown by the analysis, it is suggested that other factors lead to difficulties in reading, such as technical vocabulary and the length of clause and phrase elements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-56
Number of pages26
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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