Contracts and Grammar, Prescriptivists and Descriptivists

Contracts_680x376[Co-written with Kathryn Piper]

We were excited–for two different reasons–to see a recent blog post on the Legal Writing Profs Blog titled “An Empirical Look at the Prescriptivist vs. Descriptivist Dilemma in Drafting.” The post actually leads to a more involved blog post by Ross Guberman titled “A Day in the Life of an American Contract” which lays out the descriptivist vs. prescriptivist dilemma and describes the gap between the kind of language that authoritative sources say should be used in contract drafting and the kind of language actually used in contract drafting. Guberman backs this up with a review of 25 contracts arbitrarily pulled from the SEC website all on the same recent April day.

The reason this post caught our attention is 1) we are currently developing a contract drafting curriculum for a new course (Drafting: Litigation Documents & Contracts) intended for non-native English speaking LLM students, and 2) descriptivist vs. prescritivist is a big theme in the world of applied linguistics and grammar, a theme that ran throughout my MA TESOL studies.

In case you’re not up on things in the linguistics/grammar world, professionals in the field have increasingly Continue reading

Class Moments: Sin and moral turpitude

original-sin-garden-of-edenThe other day in class, a student used the word “sin” in class. Given the culturally laden meanings and implications of “sin,” and given my constant emphasis on getting students to define terms in alternative ways, I asked the student to explain “sin” in his own words.

I was expecting something along the lines of “to do something bad” or “an action against what God wants.” But instead the student paused for the briefest moment and then casually offered: “Moral turpitude.”

Blank stares all around. Needless to say, there currently exists a fairly wide gap in the vocabulary levels of my students. And “differentiation” is looking like one of the themes for the semester.

History of English Podcast

Credit: Louis Henwood via historyofenglishpodcast.com

A bit of a digression, but since July 2013, a lawyer named Kevin Stroud based in Raleigh, North Carolina has been producing the History of English Podcast. In addition to answering a large volume of “why the heck” questions about English language, Stroud is also an engaging storyteller, explainer, and organizer of the disparate strands of the history of the English language aided by an unpretentious, soothing voice with a slight Southern lilt. Interestingly, Stroud is neither a linguist nor a historian. (I had no idea until I was already about halfway through.) The podcast is currently up to Episode 72: The Dark Ages of English.

I learned of the podcast in Spring 2015 and began listening to it, mostly on my daily commute to work, and have finally just about caught up at midway through Episode 71: On the Hunt.

Despite my great appreciation and enjoyment of the podcast, I have to admit that it has not contributed to my “legal English” teaching in any direct way that I have been able to transfer into the classroom. But it does usually leave me inspired and excited about the field in which I teach–particularly when he references law-related words.

Try it out if you have a chance and share your reactions here if you feel so inclined.