David Langevin

David Langevin

University of New Hampshire, Manchester

English & Communications


1995

Mentor: James N. Krasner, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of English

Repetition, Meaning, and Legal Language in the Dickens Novel

The repetition in legal language that is used by Charles Dickens's fictional lawyers in "Bleak House" and "Great Expectations" is characteristic of true legislative discourse. When employed as a technique in legal expression, repetition creates a semiotic system--a specialized system of meaning with signs by which meaning is communicated. In legal language, repetition can be used to change and manipulate truth according to the agenda of the solicitor. When this occurs, repetition becomes dangerous because the rules of law are modified and thus truth is compromised. On the other hand, repetition can also be positive when it helps to emphasize the firm, unbending meaning of law by explaining and simplifying truth. Dickens himself has a tendency to use repetition in order to persuade, inform, and entertain his readers.

I will focus on the language of Dickensian lawyers, and put into context a working relationship between repetition and semantics. By applying actual legal terminology to Dickens's language, I will show how he and his lawyers often manipulate language expediently; or, how they can choose to interpret the law honestly to clarify legislative expression and unveil the truth.

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