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Review of  Languages for Special Purposes

Reviewer: Marijana Javornik Čubrić
Book Title: Languages for Special Purposes
Book Author: John Humbley Gerhard Budin Christer Laurén
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 30.2199

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The handbook comprises 572 pages and it is divided in five parts. The first part is entitled “Fundamental Aspects” and it explains what Language for Special Purposes (LSP) is and what it is used for. The introductory article investigates the evolution of the concept of genre as applied to the field of LSP and concludes that the recent innovations in Information and Communication Technology tools have not only favoured important changes in existing genres and the creation of new ones to meet emerging needs of the community of specialists, but have promoted a serious discussion about the construct of genre itself. It announces the shift in LSP studies which resulted from the development of ICT tools, and that is the increasing availability of large-scale corpora which makes vast amounts of specialised texts available for analysis. The following two contributions in the section are devoted to studying LSPs as instruments for communicating knowledge and as instruments for intercultural communication. The next chapter discusses LSP lexicography and offers a general typology of specialized dictionaries based on lexicographical functions, dictionary types and user types. The last chapter in the section provides a new perspective on teaching LSP to technical communicators and gives some examples for developing technical communication curricula.

The second part entitled “LSPs in different domains and language communities” analyses LSPs in some of its most prominent domains, such as legal language, economic language and medical language, as well as LSP in certain language communities, in particular LSPs in French, Finnish for special purposes, Norwegian LSPs and the dominance of ESP in various domains in the context of global English. The first three contributions attempt to show why LSP is crucial for domain knowledge and how these special languages have developed. The contributions devoted to LSPs and language communities deal with two international languages (French and English) and two Scandinavian languages (Finnish and Norwegian) and the very different challenges that they face. The last contribution in the section examines the relationship between gender and LSP from a historical point of view.

The third part, “Corporate and controlled communication”, deals with the role of LSPs in vocational situations, including an article about the language used by companies and organisations to express their own needs, sometimes referred to as 'company-speak', an article about controlled language used to reduce ambiguity and complexity in written procedural or descriptive technical documents, an article about the central concepts of technological communication and documentation and finally an article about instructional texts which notes that, contrary to the accepted notion, not all texts for teaching purposes are instructional, and that the scope of instructional texts surpasses a mere educational context.

The first contribution in the fourth part which is called “Science communication” introduces a systemic-functional perspective on the language of natural sciences. The second article examines the role and characteristics of oral discourse in scientific research, whereas 'scientific' refers to any discipline of research. The article points out that LSP also refers to the spoken form of communication, not just the written one, and it discusses the discourses of PhD defences, research group meetings and conference presentations. The third article examines the concept of legal discourse as an example of domain-specific science communication, and the last one explores LSPs as instruments for science communication, focusing on various new aspects which characterize LSPs in science communication, placing science communication in a global perspective and examining aspects of multi-languaging and the need to adapt to change, as well as complexity as it affects scientific communities through diversity, competition and required instruction.

The final part of the handbook is dedicated to terminology and its various aspects and it is entitled “Terminology and multilingual domain communication”. Its first chapter asserts that term formation is a central part of LSP theory and practice, and it examines the various mechanisms by which new terms come into being and the way they are accounted for by linguistic theories. The second chapter discusses concept systems from the point of view of terminology work and terminological concept analysis. The third chapter presents a survey of work done in socioterminology since its inception in the 1980s, providing an outline of its historical development, presenting its methods and some research projects undertaken in the field. However, the author concludes that socioterminology is not to be regarded as a genuine new field of study, but rather as a branch of terminology that has enriched it. The following four chapters examine terminology work in different domains: technical terminology, legal terminology, medical terminology and oil terminology. The final chapter of the book deals with legal translation.


It should first be noted that the handbook uses the term 'languages for special purposes' instead of the customary term 'languages for specific purposes' in order to emphasise that the intention of the authors was to analyse various manifestations of specialised discourse, and provide an overview of the role of language in specialised communication. All the contributors are well known authors in their respective fields.

It is stated in the Preface that one of the aims of the handbook was to give more prominence to terminology, which has become an essential part not just of LSPs, but also of linguistics as a whole. It is clear to all LSP practitioners that terminology has indeed become an essential part of LSP, not only in theory, but also increasingly in practice. Having that in mind, it could be said that the handbook achieved this particular aim, and because of that it is a welcome addition to the field.

As the handbook covers different vocational uses of LSPs, it is certainly recommendable to LSP students and teachers, but definitely also to professionals working in the analysed areas. The handbook is aptly divided into sections, it presents a coherent volume and it is easy to follow. It offers some new insights into LSP and provides an overview of the role of language in specialised communication as it is perceived nowadays.

As a lecturer of Legal English, English for Public Administration and English for Tax Professionals, I was especially interested in the articles that examine LSPs in different domains, particularly legal language which is prominent in the handbook, as three chapters are expressly devoted to it. The first article is written by Heiki Mattila, the author of the influential book “Comparative Legal Linguistics”, and it examines some of the issues covered in that book, namely the notion of legal language, functions and characteristics of legal language, the influence of Latin on the development of legal language and on several important legal lingua francas (German, Russian, French, Spanish and English), and finally the future of international legal communication. Although English is the absolutely dominant lingua franca in the world today, Mattila predicts that the rise of new powers, especially in Asia, will create new lingua francas in the future, namely Chinese. At the same time he believes that the rise of new powers will support the position of English, as the countries of the Indian sub-continent and numerous African countries will continue to use English for all legal purposes.

The remaining two articles about legal language are written by Peter Sandrini, also a well-known author in this field. The first article identifies the knowledge units of law by describing the features and characteristics of legal concepts and stressing the importance of conceptual information for legal terminology and legal translation, stressing that in legal translation the translator has to have conceptual information on the legal topics the source text is dealing with: first, legal knowledge of the target system in order to understand the text itself, and second, knowledge of the target system in order to offer an adequate translation. These issues are further elaborated in the final chapter of the handbook by the same author and entitled simply Legal translation. The article firstly discusses the relationship between language and law, and then explains what distinguishes legal translation from other types of technical translation, defining legal translation as “the translation within the field of law of any texts that are needed in law” (p. 550). This implies that any text whatsoever might be needed in law, which further implies that any translation could, in fact, become legal translation. Another problem associated with legal translation is that the translator always has to be aware of the fact that translation involves (at least) two languages that may be tied to very different legal systems. The author proposes a layered model of legal translation and stresses that a sound theoretical framework for this needs to be established in the future.

Particularly due to the three articles dedicated to various aspects of legal language, the handbook can be heartily recommended to legal language practitioners, law students and legal professionals, as well as to all those interested in the complex relationship between language and law.


Heiki E. S. Mattila, 2006. Comparative Legal Linguistics, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Sandrini, Peter, 1999. Legal Terminology. Some Aspects for a New Methodology. Hermes Journal of Linguistics, 22, Aarhus School of Business.
Marijana Javornik Čubrić is a senior lecturer of English at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb. She holds a PhD in linguistics and is interested in legal linguistics, terminology and curriculum development.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783110228007
Pages: 571
Prices: U.S. $ 378.99