Original scientific article
Page 305 - 317

Semantics of the verb shall in legal discourse

Olga A. Krapivkina
E-mail: koa1504@mail.ru
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9738-8122
Irkutsk National Research Technical University

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Abstract: The article deals with the modal verb shall in English legal discourse. The analysis of theoretical and factual data shows that shall performs a number of semantic functions in legal texts that violate the main drafting requirements – clarity, precision, lack of ambiguity of legal utterances. Lexical units and grammatical constructions with ambiguous meanings obscure legal provisions for lay persons, so their use goes against one of the main principles of the rule of law – equitable access to legal information for all citizens, not only for legal experts. Furthermore, the ambiguity of linguistic units involves considerable difficulties for legal translators as they need to have deep legal knowledge in order to interpret unclear intentions of legislators. The article examines three approaches developed in law-making practice to the use of shall in legal documents: restricting shall to one sense, avoidance of shal, and keeping the verb with all its existing meanings. The analysis showed that in legal discourse shall may be replaced by other modal verbs – may, must, should, be to with less ambiguous meanings.
Keywords:
legal discourse, modal verb, meaning, semantic function, plain language,
Article data in other languages: Croatian