Publication Title

Florida Journal of International Law


legal writing, non-native speakers of English

Document Type



This Article attempts to use linguistics, specifically text analysis and pragmatics, to help explain how and why lawyers who are non-native speakers of English (NNS) struggle with cohesion in their U.S. legal writing. Then in light of that discussion, it offers a four-step, receptive and productive exercise to engage students in contrastive analysis of cohesive features across languages and cultures.

It begins by distinguishing coherence (top-down flow related to rhetorical preferences and organization of content and argument) from cohesion (bottom-up flow related to the surface features that exhibit connections between clauses). As background, it explores the role of cohesion in English as understood by linguists in text analysis. Through this discussion, it explains that while cohesion does not create coherence, inappropriate or incorrect use of cohesive devices may interfere with coherence and a sense of top-down flow, which is of particular concern for NNS lawyers.

Next the Article offers perspectives from pragmatics, primarily Relevance theory, to identify the principles that guide a writer’s decisions about when and whether to use cohesive devices—principles that provide insight into how NNS lawyers may approach the problem of connecting.

From there, it elaborates on how the use of cohesive ties varies across languages and cultures. Finally, the Article argues that law professors can extend the contrastive analysis they already do for top-down organization and flow to bottom-up structures related to cohesion.

To this end, the Article offers a simple, adaptable exercise aimed at helping NNS lawyers increase their repertoires of cohesive devices as well as their understanding of how native English writers use cohesive devices to signal connections and relationships between their ideas. This exercise asks students to (1) use contrastive analysis to examine the cohesive features of a model, five-paragraph, persuasive essay; (2) write a similar, research-free, five-paragraph essay based on lessons from discussion of the model; (3) engage in an intensive, guided peer-review of the cohesive ties in these essays; and (4) revise their own work based on comments and contrastive analysis. At each stage, students identify important nuances and differences between how cohesive devices are defined and used in different legal discourse communities, while building their own repertoires and commands of the cohesive devices used by successful U.S. legal writers.



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