Friday, June 3, 2011

The language of two South African Constitutions

One of my two theses is now finally ready, and given that I am satisfied with the results, I thought I should share it. It was a comparison of two South African constitutions (the 1961 and the current 1996 one), to see if the freer society has manifested itself in a more accessible legal text, which I showed it did. This was not only the result of modernization, but a conscious effort on the part of the drafters.

Here's the abstract, and if you are interested, you can read the whole thing here.

This study examined in detail the language of two South African constitutions. The Republic of South Africa Constitution Act, 1961 adopted in the era of apartheid was compared with the current constitution, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, to find out whether the democratization of society has resulted in a more accessible constitution. 
Based on the recommendations of the Plain Language Movement for more accessible legal language, four criteria were examined in a quantitative analysis: average sentence length, the use of passive verb forms, the use of „shall‟ and the use of archaic and Latin expressions. 
The results showed that the 1996 Constitution compared to the 1961 Constitution has significantly shorter average sentences; passive constructions are half as frequent; the use of „shall‟ and difficult, archaic and Latin expressions are avoided. The results indicate that the language of the 1996 Constitution conforms better to the recommendations on accessible language. In conclusion, the democratization of society has been accompanied by a constitution that is easier to comprehend and understand, allowing the citizens to understand their rights and obligations towards the state better.

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