Jan Engberg – University of Copenhagen

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RELINE - Legal Linguistics Network > Steering committee > Jan Engberg

Jan Engberg

Professor, PhD, Aarhus University

I am a professor of Knowledge Communication at the Department for Language and Business Communication, Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, and one of the initiators of the network. My educational background is that of a specialized translator and text researcher, and I work with the relation between language and specialized meaning in the field of law. I am especially interested in explicitly vague formulations in legal texts (like sufficient cause), in the interpretation of the law in courts and elsewhere and in the role of the way a statute is formulated in this context, but also in the intelligibility of legal texts. I study legal knowledge as represented in legal texts, and my basic assumption is that this knowledge is created in and influenced by communicative interaction.

I find legal linguistics interesting especially from two points of view: partly as a venue for describing the influence of language on how knowledge and meaning are developed in the field of law, and partly as a possibility for investigating how knowledge and meaning develop through conversation and interaction among experts within a scholarly field.

As to the influence of language, the starting point of my projects is particularly the legal texts and the way they are formulated. This encompasses studies of how to structure legal decisions as well as studies of the use of words like shall in different legal text genres and in different legal cultures, legal systems and languages. My special interest lies in finding out what we may say about differences and similarities between legal systems and what role the differences and similarities play in the intelligibility of legal texts. The so-called Genre Analysis (Swales, Bhatia, …) plays a central role for me here.

As to the development of meaning and knowledge, I investigate how legal concepts are developed through the interpretation especially of statutes in courts, in scholarly debates (especially written) and in the more general debates in a society. The perspective I choose here is mainly that of the sociology of knowledge, i.e., I look for factors influencing the communicative interactions, in which legal experts are involved and from where new and developed meaning and knowledge emerge. However, at the same time I am interested in the role of the individual legal expert. As an example I have studied the development of the term Mord in Swiss criminal law and the distribution of variations of the concept across legal experts at different times. The late Wittgenstein is an important source of inspiration here, as well as cognitive theories on how we understand each other in conversation.