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Review of  A Linguistic Analysis of Diplomatic Discourse

Reviewer: Brett Mylo Drury
Book Title: A Linguistic Analysis of Diplomatic Discourse
Book Author: Germana D’Acquisto
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 29.1268

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REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


The latest publication from the publishers Cambridge Scholars is A Linguistic Analysis of Diplomatic Discourse, by Germana D'Acquisto, which provides a linguistic analysis of resolutions passed by the United Nations on the Question of Palestine. Although, not explicitly stated, it seems that the book is a revised version of the author's Doctoral thesis.

The author states that the aim of the book is to investigate the: “language of the United Nations Resolutions concerning the question of Palestine”. The author further notes that, despite Palestine and Israel not having English as a 1st language, the negotiations have been conducted in English. The book's linguistic analysis is restricted to investigating the: “role of the English verbal system and archaic expressions in the relation to the modality in the institutional language of the United Nations.”

There are a number issues that affect the whole of the book. The publication is in dire need of the attention of a copy editor. There are a number of grammar errors and spelling mistakes such as “houseband” (acknowledgements) which is unacceptable in an academic publication. In addition, the author launches into subjects without providing any context, or background information. For example, the author refers to the '' League's Covenant'' without explaining that the League is the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.

Additionally the layout of the book is clumsy. The author uses detailed footnotes that take up nearly a page, for example Page 3 has detailed description of the language of the texts of the United Nations. Footnotes of this length must be integrated into the main text. The supporting graphical representation of linguistic phenomena is poorly thought through. The infographics consist mainly of screenshots, as seen on Pages 37 and 43. The graphics do not ease the reader's understanding of the book, but inhibit it. The book could be improved immensely with clear and well thought through graphical representation of the linguistic phenomena. Finally, the author quotes verbatim resolutions (for example see Pages 35 and 36) with little or no explanatory text.

The problems with language and structure make the book a little difficult to read, and will no doubt put off the target audience of this book, readers new to the subject matter.


The book is organized into an introduction and three numbered chapters:
- Introduction (4 pages)
- The United Nations and the Question of Palestine (8 Pages)
- Functional Analysis of UN Resolutions (14 Pages)
- The Modality in UN Resolutions (52 Pages)

These three chapters are supplemented by Appendices:
- Appendix I: Lists of the Selected UN Resolutions (4 Pages)
- Appendix II: The Main Events in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2 Pages)
- Appendix III: Activities (8 Pages)
- Appendix IV: UN Charter (30 Pages)

This review will consider each chapter and the role of each appendix.


Although not a numbered chapter the introduction is clearly intended to frame the remainder of the book. The author clearly states the type of analysis that will be used. The selected analysis is: sentence structure, and content analysis. The sentence structure analysis description is complete, but the reader is given the impression that the content analysis description is incomplete and that there will be further undocumented content analysis. The author then describes the academic sources of her analysis which include Halliday's Systemic Functional Grammar and Fairclough's Critical Discourse Analysis. The author also includes the type of the software (Antconc 2.0) that was used. There is no justification for the selection of the type analysis nor the software, and consequently the choices seem a little ad-hoc and lack any form of academic rigour. The author provides a short summary for each chapter.

Finally the chapter signs off with a statement that the book will offer: “some examples of possible activities with a didactic aim aimed at students”, but it does not expand on this statement any further. These examples are not referred to explicitly again in the remainder of the book. They are listed in the unhelpfully titled Appendix III activities.

Chapter One: The United Nations and the Question of Palestine

The aim of this chapter as described in the introduction is the descriptive role of language in diplomatic negotiation and discourse. Additionally, the chapter seeks to provide an analysis of the diplomatic language's lexicon.

This chapter is relatively short (8 pages), and is intended to set the scene for the following chapters.

The chapter has two main sections:
- The role of the UN Resolutions in the Middle East Conflict
- Language and Diplomacy: UN Resolutions and negotiations in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The initial section provides a short potted history of Palestine as well as the UN related resolutions. The author makes a number of claims such as the administration of Palestine did not take into the consideration the wishes of the Palestinians. But she does not provide any supporting evidence. The claims may be true, but they need to be supported. The remainder of the section provides some commentary on the UN resolutions from the author herself as well as from other sources. Resolution 242 is copied verbatim in both English and French. There is a suggestion that the outcome of the decision making process of the security council or the United Nations may be dependent upon the Resolution language. However it is not clear how linguistic differences between the 2 languages bears upon the decision making process.

The language and diplomacy section briefly describes the function of diplomacy as well as the characteristics of the language of diplomacy. The author provides some brief details about modern diplomacy. There is a brief analysis of the diplomatic negotiation lexicon. The author states that the aforementioned lexicon of the Middle East contains various negotiation words in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Turkish, but she does not explicitly state them. The author then briefly discusses the differences between the words: “Peace” and “Delegation” in English and their Arabic equivalents. Finally the author discusses the role of culture and tradition in determining the role and meaning of words. In particular she studies the differences between the Western Tradition where free exchange of ideas is encouraged and hierarchical societies where they are not.

Chapter Two: A functional analysis of U.N. Resolutions

This chapter describes the “style and structure” of legal texts, as well as the choice of language and words. This chapter is slightly longer than the 1st chapter (12 pages). The chapter is split into the following sections:
- An overview of legal texts
- Analysis of UN resolutions
- Linguistic analysis of the verbal system of the United Nations Resolutions
- Enactment Clauses
- Personal pronouns
- Nominalization
- Lexical Choices

The overview of legal texts section provides an overview of the language characteristics contained in legal language, language of the law and language of legal documents. The author quotes two academic sources, for which she concludes that the: “members of the United Nations are a diplomatic speech community who share a set of commutative processes” whereas the resolutions report the decisions made by the diplomatic speech community.

The analysis of UN resolutions sections provide a description of how UN resolutions are structured. Additionally the author describes her methodology for the analysis of UN resolution and the associated academic sources.

The Linguistic analysis section is the start of the author's analysis of UN resolutions. The section provides a brief introduction to the sub-corpora that were used in the author's analysis. The corpora cover security council and general assembly resolutions. The author makes a few basic observations about verb tenses and the type of verbs used in the preamble of legal texts. The author makes an observation about non-finite ''ing'' forms of verbs such as: reaffirm and recall. The author then describes the differences between the role of these verbs in resolutions compared with general usage. The author provides some basic statistics about the use of performative verbs. The percentage statistic that the author quotes is a little misleading as it is missing the % sign, although this is corrected in the infographic. Despite the percentages for the selected verbs all being below 0.5% the author concludes that these verbs enforce a depersonalized writing style on UN resolutions.

The enactment clause section covers a specific part of UN resolutions that introduces its provisions. And again the author concentrates her analysis upon the non-finite “ing” forms of verbs. She provides two examples of these verb forms in enactment clauses. And finally the author concludes that the role of enactment clauses is to state facts.

The personal pronoun section briefly describes the use of pronouns in resolutions, the conclusion of which is that the Resolutions produced by the General Assembly use the pronoun “we” to refer to the assembly, whereas the Security Council use “it”. The pronoun “I” is used when the addressee introduces the Resolution. The author provides a screenshot of the concordances of the pronoun “we” in General Assembly Resolutions. The concordances of “we” in Resolution 60/288 2006 is then compared with the concordances of “we” in all General Assembly Resolutions. The analysis is simply comparative, and no conclusion is reached.

Nominalization sections briefly state that the use of gerdunive forms is an indicator of nominalization. The author states that because nominalization makes the subject information dense, the nominalized texts become difficult to read. The author does not support this statement with examples or academic sources. The remainder of the section discusses the use of the pronoun “we” and its role in United Nations Resolutions.

The final section discusses the lexical choices of the resolution writers. The author concentrates on three specific words: therein, thereto and inter-alia. The author provides a small number of examples of the use of these words. The author states that these archaic words and other archaic words and phrases impair the readability of legal texts. Finally, the section makes a plea for clearer language in legal documents.

Chapter Three: Modality in UN Resolutions

This chapter forms the bulk of the book weighing in at 52 pages. The chapter contains the following sections:
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis of English central modals
- Modals of obligation
- Modals of permission and ability
- Modals of volition and prediction
- Passive voice vs. active voice
- English expressions of modality

The initial section lays out briefly the role of English modal verbs as well as some academic sources supporting the author's assertions. There is a simple relative frequency analysis of modal verbs in the General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.

The sections: Modals of obligation, Modals of permission and ability and Modals of volition and prediction are very similar to each other. Each verb in each section has an unhelpful screenshot of concordances of each verb in the Antconc 2.0 software, some selected examples of the verb in question and some observations upon the selected verb. The observations tended to be about the verb's linguistic role. It would have been more useful to speculate about the verb's role in framing the resolution or at least the cultural role of the verb. This type of analysis would have helped the reader's comprehension of how language influences legal outcomes and possibly the creation of international incidents.

The passive voice section describes the issues of the use of passive voice and their influence upon ambiguity in legals texts. This was singularly the most helpful and informative section of the book. And this type of analysis should have been the central theme of the book. The impact of the choice of language, and how it is written impacts upon legal decisions. This has been hinted at in the book, but not analysed in detail.

English expressions of modality briefly discusses non-verbal modality in English. And some examples are given. This section is out of order and should have been possibly included in the 1st section. The chapter finishes with a brief conclusion.

Appendix I: Lists of the Selected UN Resolutions

This appendix is a simply a list of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. The list is simply a resolution number with no further details.

Appendix II: Main Events in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

This appendix is simply a list of dates and event titles that the author considers to be the main events of the Arab-Israeli conflict. No references are given

Appendix III: Activities

This appendix has the text to Resolution A/RES/60/126, a small number of questions and a URL. The URL confusingly links to Resolution A/RES/60/126.

Appendix IV: The UN Charter

This is simply a verbatim copy of the UN Charter.


In general this book was a little disappointing. It could have been an important work as the choice of legal language and how it is written frames and influences legal decisions. In addition assumptions based upon written legal language influence how decisions are enforced. This is hinted at in the book, but not expanded upon. I hope that the author releases a revised 2nd edition which is a little more polished and expands upon the source material.
Brett Drury is a senior researcher at the National University of Ireland Galway and holds a undergraduate law degree from Plymouth University and a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Porto.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781443850728
Pages: 140
Prices: U.K. £ 58.99
U.S. $ 99.95