Linguist humor: What we really do

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

From 11/25/20 xkcd (“A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language”)

And go to the Language Log blog (which is where I first aw this xkcd webcomic) for some great linguist commentary and reactions to this.

Ever since reading this webcomic, my life ambition has become to put it on a coffee mug and give the mugs out to everyone else at the law school outside of the Legal English Team to help shift the perception of the ways we help LLM students and other non-native English speaking law students.

When I dream, I dream big.

Crash Course Linguistics

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

For anyone who’s interested in learning more about linguistics from a language teaching perspective or who’s thought about doing a masters in applied linguistics or TESOL but doesn’t have the time, the creators of the Lingthusiasm podcast now have a YouTube channel with a series of short videos on the basics of linguistics called Crash Course Linguistics.

Here’s a sampling:

Language Log: Lawyers as linguists

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

Language Log has become one of my favorite blogs. Especially when they get into the intersection of law and linguistics. Here’s a good one:

Alison Frankel, “Lexicographer (and Scalia co-author) joins plaintiffs’ team in Facebook TCPA case at SCOTUS“, Reuters 10/20/2020:

Can a lexicographer fend off the combined forces of Facebook, the Justice Department and the entire U.S. business lobby at the U.S. Supreme Court?

What if said lexicographer is also the co-author, with Justice Antonin Scalia, of a landmark book about textualism that is cited multiple times in the other side’s briefs?

Bryan Garner – the Black’s Law Dictionary editor, legal writing consultant and, with Justice Scalia, author of Reading Law – has joined the Supreme Court team of Noah Duguid, a Montana man who sued Facebook in 2015 for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. And though he’s only been working with Duguid’s other lawyers for a matter of weeks, Garner’s influence on Duguid’s just-filed merits brief is unmistakable. Who else could so boldly assert that the TCPA’s meaning depends on whether the statute’s “adverbial modifier” applies to just one or both “disjunctive verbs” with a “common object”?

Without taking anything away from the well-deserved kudos for Bryan Garner, I want to underline how odd it is to suggest that without his help, lawyers couldn’t be expected to understand simple grammatical concepts like “adverbial modifier”, “disjunctive verb”, and “common object”.

Read the full post on Language Log.

Scrambled States of America: The Game

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

I’ve realized in my legal English teaching that a lot of LLM students are not very familiar with American geography. And yet it’s very helpful background knowledge to know about in the context of studying in law school. 
I thought about it again today because my kids just got a game called The Scrambled States of America Game

It’s based on a very clever children’s book called the Scrambled States of America. But more importantly, it can be an engaging and fun way for LLM students to get more familiar with American geography. 

The way the Scrambled States of America Game seems to work (after watching my kids play it today) is that each person has 5 state cards in front of them. Each state has the state name, the capital, and the state’s nickname. Then you draw a card from the deck and it says something like “A state nickname with 4 different vowels in it.” So you look at your cards to see if you have one that fits the requirement, and you try to be the first to say that state’s name before the other players can identify one from their state cards.
There’s also a map without state names that is put out that has some purpose that I haven’t had time to determine yet. 

But it seems to create a lot of repeated exposures to state names and locations while connecting basic knowledge about states in a way that’s fun and leads to absorption of the info. On top of that, it’s social and a good ice-breaker. Plus it leads to lots of back and forth negotiating and commenting, all of which is good for speaking and listening practice. 

Conclusion: This would be an ideal great game to play during LLM Orientation. Well, in a normal non-pandemic year anyway. And in that regard, it wouldn’t hurt if an online version could be created.

LAWnLinguistics: Corpora and the Second Amendment

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

If you’re ever looking for the epicenter of the intersection of law and linguistics, Georgetown linguistics professor Neil Goldfarb of LAWnLinguistics and Language Log has a really terrific series of posts on the topic of Corpora and the Second Amendment.

In his posts, Goldfarb relies on a corpus of language composed of actual language from the time period when the Constitution was created and then uses the corpus data to deconstruct the likely intended meaning of the language of the Second Amendment, including the words “bear,” “arms” and “militia.”

Needless to say, the linguistic investigation reaches fairly different conclusions from the Supreme Court that are worth understanding if you have any interest in Second Amendment law, and interpretation of terms in any legal case for that matter.

See below for additional readings on the application of linguistic principles in legal interpretation: to cons in interpreting language:

  1. Hoffman, Craig, “Parse the Sentence First: Curbing the Urge to Resort to the Dictionary when Interpreting Legal Texts,” 6 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y 401 (2002-2003) (Note: Professor Craig Hoffman is Director of Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law School.)
  2. Rubin, Philip A., “War of the Words: How Courts Can Use Dictionaries In Accordance with Textualist Principles,” 2010
  3. Goldfarb, Neal, “The Use of Corpus Linguistics in Legal Interpretation” (June 19, 2020). 2021. Annual Review of Linguistics. Vol. 7. Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Did I leave out any of your favorites? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Things I’m trying in our first-ever self-paced, asynchronous legal English course

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

Since I started my new position at Georgetown Law in January, 2020 (just a couple months before the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon us), my primary focus has been developing a self-paced, asynchronous online legal English course. It’s been an exciting learning and creative experience, and the course now happily exists!

It’s called OLE: Orientation to the U.S. Legal System (though we have also created another iteration with the perhaps more literally descriptive title OLE: U.S. Legal System – Core Concepts & Vocabulary), and though it felt like this day would never arrive, I’ve now actually begun teaching it. (Note: OLE = Online Legal English)

Of course, I’m not teaching in the traditional sense. I’m not in a classroom and I don’t even have any lesson plans. All of that is embedded into the self-paced, do-it-yourself course. The course is set up so that students essentially work through it on their own, with various activities due each day and a final graded writing assignment due at the end of each week. The only synchronous component is are one or two Zoom office hour sessions each week that provide a chance for students to ask questions and discuss anything they want, and for all of us to get to know each other better. It’s this sort of “flipped classroom” model in an online, asynchronous set-up that I’ve never done before. And that I think has not yet been done in the legal English world. (And by the way, if I’m wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know.)

Continue reading “Things I’m trying in our first-ever self-paced, asynchronous legal English course”

Welcome to the Georgetown Legal English Blog!

Hi everyone! We started this blog to be able to:

  • Share who we are, what we do, and what we’ve been doing to help LL.M. and other learners learn more about law while improving their law-related English.
  • Connect and share ideas with others in the global community of those teaching legal English.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come. But while you’re waiting you can meet the Georgetown Legal English Faculty.

Georgetown Law Legal English Faculty

Professor Craig Hoffman

  • Director, Legal English Programs
  • Professor of U.S. Legal Discourse
  • JD, University of Texas
  • PhD, Linguistics, University of Connecticut
  • BA, William & Mary 

Professor Marta Baffy

  • Director, 2-Year LLM Program
  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, Cardozo Law School
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown
  • Masters, Applied Linguistics, Columbia University
  • BA, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Hungarian, French, Italian, Croatian

Professor Michelle Ueland

  • Director, Center for Legal English
  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico
  • MA, Applied Linguistics, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica
  • BA, English Literature and Women’s Studies, Minnesota State University
  • Classes: Advanced Scholarly Writing; Oral Communication in the Law; Foundations of Legal Writing (Two Year LLM) 
  • Foreign Languages: Spanish

Professor Stephen Horowitz

  • Director, Online Legal English Programs
  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, Duke University School of Law
  • Masters in TESOL, CUNY-Hunter College
  • BA, University of Pennsylvania
  • Classes: Orientation to the U.S. Legal System
  • Foreign Languages: Japanese, Spanish, and a little bit of Chinese, Hebrew, and Portuguese
  • Connect with Prof. Horowitz on LinkedIn

Professor Mari Sakai

  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown
  • MAT, University of South Florida
  • BA, University of North Carolina
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Japanese

Professor Andrew Kerr

  • Professor of Legal English
  • SJD, Georgetown
  • JD, Columbia University
  • BA, Wesleyan University
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: A little bit of Vietnamese

Professor Julie Lake

  • Director, JD Legal English Programming
  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown 
  • MS, Linguistics, Georgetown
  • BA, Oberlin College
  • Classes: 
  • Foreign Languages: German, French, Hebrew, and a little bit of Hindi

Professor Heather Weger

  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown
  • MAT, TESOL & Bilingual Education, Georgetown
  • MA, Adult & Higher Education, University of Oklahoma
  • BA, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Classes: Fundamentals of Legal Writing I & II
  • Foreign Languages: German, Spanish, and a little bit of French, Korean, and Japanese

Professor Almas Khan

  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, University of Chicago
  • PhD, English, University of Virginia
  • MA, University of California Irvine
  • BA, Stanford
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Urdu and a little bit of French and Arabic

Professor Benjamin Cheng

  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, University of Pennsylvania
  • AB, Harvard
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Chinese (Mandarin) and a little Japanese

Professor John Dundon

  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, George Washington University
  • MA, Applied Linguistics, Columbia University
  • BA, University of Virginia
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: French, Russian, Farsi, Tajik and Rushani