Poor writing, not specialized concepts, drives processing difficulty in legal language(July 2022)

Despite their ever-increasing presence in everyday life, contracts remain notoriously inaccessible to laypeople. Why? Here, a corpus analysis (n ≈10 million words) revealed that contracts contain startlingly high proportions of certain difficult-to-process features–including low-frequency jargon, center-embedded clauses (leading to long-distance syntactic dependencies), passive voice structures, and non-standard capitalization–relative to nine other baseline genres of written and spoken English. Two experiments (N=184) further revealed that excerpts containing these features were recalled and comprehended at lower rates than excerpts without these features, even for experienced readers, and that center-embedded clauses inhibited recall more-so than other features. These findings (a) undermine the specialized concepts account of legal theory, according to which law is a system built upon expert knowledge of technical concepts; (b) suggest such processing difficulties result largely from working-memory limitations imposed by long-distance syntactic dependencies (i.e., poor writing) as opposed to a mere lack of specialized legal knowledge; and (c) suggest editing out problematic features of legal texts would be tractable and beneficial for society at-large.




「アメリカの科学誌「Improbable Research(風変わりな研究の年報)」が毎年主催している「笑い、そして考えさせられる研究」に対して贈られるイグノーベル賞の2022年度授賞式が、2022年9月16日7時に開催されました。第32回目となる今回は10部門の賞が用意され、日本人の研究者も受賞しました。(Gigazine)」




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