I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to review a new book by Alissa Hartig, Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University, entitled Connecting Language and Disciplinary Knowledge in English for Specific Purposes: Case Studies in Law, which I just yesterday received from the publisher, Multilingual Matters. Part of the reason is that this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first book ever published that presents a study of the teaching of “legal English” from a linguistics perspective.
In other words, it is an entire book that thinks deeply and conceptually–far more deeply and conceptually than I would be able to–about how to teach law with language support to non-native English speaking law students (e.g., international LLM students). If I can read and absorb even 10% of what’s in this book, I feel like I will ascend to a higher legal English plain. Which suggests that if I absorb the entire book I will attain some sort of legal English nirvana. (Side note: Wondering whether this is the first instance of “legal English” collocating with “nirvana.”)
The other reason for my excitement in reviewing this book is that Alissa’s earlier published research was my first serious encounter with legal English. It was in the midst of my MA TESOL program at Hunter College in 2014 when my eyes were first opened to the wide range of existing and accessible applied linguistic research and I decided to figure out what, if anything, might have been written on the topic of legal English. I came across a paper by Alissa Hartig (then a PhD candidate at Penn State) entitled Plain English and legal writing: Comparing expert and novice writers. Up to that moment, legal English was an idea, a fantasy that I had. I didn’t know if it was a real thing, a legitimate field, an actual way to make a living. Alissa’s paper validated my instinct. It was a real field, and people were already engaged in it in serious ways. So to my mind, Alissa has stood for legal English in the same way that your first sports hero as a child stands for the entire sport itself.
Hopefully, it is clear that that I do not lack for motivation in reviewing Alissa’s book. What I do lack, however, is time. In addition to full-time work in a growing program, I also am co-manager of three small children at home which limits my ability to follow through on extracurricular projects.
The solution I’ve come up with is to blog about this book as I work my through it incrementally (i.e., very slowly). This approach is inspired by a Slate.com feature from a number of years ago which I greatly enjoyed reading–David Plotz’s “Blogging the Bible.”
And so, despite not yet having actually read any of the book save the front and back cover plus the table of contents, let this stand as Part 1 of this serial book review of Connecting Language.
Stay tuned for Part 2 and beyond.