Ambiguities in the Language of Law: A Case Study of Selected Court Cases in Nigeria

Ambiguities in the Language of Law: A Case Study of Selected Court Cases in Nigeria

Author by Dr. Olubunmi Idowu

Journal/Publisher: International Journal Of Humanities And Social Science Invention (ijhssi)

Volume/Edition: 8

Language: English

Pages: 53 - 59


Language is legal practitioners’ tool of trade. The intricate connection between both variables explains why law students at undergraduate level in Nigeria offer some General Studies Programme (GSP) courses in English. However, the scope of their GSP in language study is infinitesimal as some crucial areas in Systemic Functional Grammar such as study of ambiguities, covert/contextualised meanings and politeness etcetera which are crucial to logic and inferencing especially in English as a Second language situation like Nigeria is relegated. It is on this backdrop that this paper investigated ambiguities in selected Nigerian court cases with the view to exposing how meanings change in context. This paper identified two main types of ambiguities: Latent and patent ambiguities. However, it focused only on patent ambiguities under which seven types of ambiguities: lexical, syntactic, grouping, phonological, contextual, grouping and punctuation ambiguities were identified. Of the various types, this paperonly studied lexical and contextual ambiguities in eight purposively randomly selected court judgments. The analysis undoubtedly revealed that court judgments are fraught with lexical and contextual ambiguities which could pose serious social-political, economic and security problems if not adequately handled by the judiciary. Therefore, this study recommends the inculcation of studies in Semantics and Pragmatics and some other vital aspects of Systemic Grammar into the General /elective English Studies Programme offered by law students in Nigeria.


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