Foregrounding awareness of sentence construction-types in the interpretive analysis of legal writing: a case study of the statute of the University of Zululand (Higher Education Act, 1997)

  • Elijah Mkhatshwa


Although Fromkin and Rodman (2007L335) argue that from a very early stage onward children have a grasp of the principles of phrase and sentence formation and the kinds of structure dependencies that obtain within the construction of a sentence, this argument does not extend to second language learners of English. Hence, it is often difficult for adults to learn a second language without formal instruction, even when they have lived for an extended period in a country where the language is spoken (Fromkin and Rodman, 2007:16). In this article, I have demonstrated through the content analysis of the selected sentences that is cannot be presumed that knowledge of the structure of the English language and how it is put to use in legal texts will be known to second language users of English without overt instructional intervention. Thus, a lack of knowledge of sentential structure results in cognitive deficit defined as the limitations on mental efficiency required to process information in an additional language such as English. It is recommended, therefore, that while frequency of use of particular items, as revealed by the analysis of the statutory sentences is one indication of usefulness, it should not be the only basis on which language teaching is planned and organised (cf. Kennedy, 2003:5). Instead, more importance and focus should be attributed to items that are crucial in conveying meaning and are appropriate to readers’ linguistic needs within the context of their meaning.

This article argues that although we are not obliged by the grammatical and lexical structure of English to give circumstantial information, these circumstances are essential in enhancing the effectiveness and communicative potential of sentences. Since modification and subordination form part of the essential techniques used by writers in enhancing the effectiveness and communicative potential of sentences, this article, therefore, focuses on the use of subordinate clauses and modality within sentences whose construction typifies the desirative and instrumental function of language within the context of legal writing.


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eISSN: 1596-9231