The Creation of a “National” Legal Language

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by Christopher Hodges

I didn’t expect to apply for an undergraduate research scholarship this summer. Furthermore, as a Drama and English student, I certainly didn’t expect to be working on a law project. However, I took a chance, and decided I would prepare as best I could for the interview for the scholarship ‘The Creation of a “National” Legal Language’ run by Dr. Karen McAuliffe. I can confirm that working on this project with Dr. McAuliffe has been an absolute pleasure and has been one of the most positive experiences of my university career.

Dr. McAuliffe’s project caught my attention as it explores the relationship between law and language. My scholarship involved investigating the efforts being made to develop a legal language in Irish both within the European Union and at a national level.

My first task was to develop a literature review of academic writings on the subject. This at first seemed daunting, as this was a field I had never explored before – and furthermore – I’d never even written or read a literature review before! However, this experience proved a rewarding one. I was given very helpful guidance, but also an assurance that I should trust my instincts when it came to my research and writing. As a result, the literature review took me to places I didn’t expect. For example, when I had questions concerning a PhD thesis I had found, Dr. McAuliffe put me in to email contact with the author working in Brussels – allowing me to obtain extremely useful information I never expected to find.

My next task was to compile three distinct databases concerning different types of documents that refer to the Irish language. However, in the end, I only created one database. You see – a few days into this task I was mildly terrified. I couldn’t find anything! I worried I was doing something wrong, however, when I mentioned this to Dr. McAuliffe she laughed and told me it was to be expected. If there is one major takeaway from this scholarship, it is the experience of what I can only call the ‘other’ side of academia. As undergraduates, we are often taught material that is foundational and well-researched to give a basic understanding of our chosen field. However, this scholarship allowed me to glimpse the opposite – the experience of looking at a topic where there is very little research, and furthermore, the early process of how to go about conducting it.

My final task was to ‘code’ a preliminary interview that Dr.McAuliffe had conducted with a translator working in the EU a year prior. Again, coding was an unfamiliar process, but I was once more given the assurance that I should trust my own judgment. The process involved analysing the interview transcript and classifying the statements made by the respondent into various subgroupings of my own devising, primarily with an aim to highlight statements relating to the Irish language. This proved an entertaining experience, and the casual tone of the interview gave a very ‘human’ aspect to the work I had been doing (for example, the respondent joked about his struggles to find solid research – something I could now relate to!).

However, the most gratifying aspect of the scholarship was the flexibility. I was allowed a five-week break to take a trip to the United States to visit my partner, and upon returning, the remaining weeks of the scholarship were communicated via Skype as Dr. McAuliffe was out of the country. No problems occurred as a result, and if anything, I believe the circumstances fostered a more relaxed tone of communication that only aided the process of my work.

To conclude: I don’t study law, and I don’t speak Irish. However, I would say to anyone reading this: if you’re interested in something, apply for it. If I’d decided against placing an application, my summer could have easily turned in to a squandered one. Instead, I was given the opportunity to tackle an entirely new field, to experience a different perspective, and to learn skills that would not be available to me anywhere else. As I move in to my third year, the prospect of a dissertation is now a tad less daunting (although I hope I find a bit more research to fill those 12,000 words!)

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