Constitutional Dialects: The Language of Transnational Legal Orders

Constitution-Making and Transnational Legal Order (Gregory Shaffer, Tom Ginsburg & Terence Halliday eds., Cambridge University Press, 2019, Forthcoming)

Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper

University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2019/003

40 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2019

See all articles by David S. Law

David S. Law

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law; The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law; Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science

Date Written: December 13, 2018

Abstract

What influences shape the drafting of constitutions, and to what extent? One way of tackling these questions is to analyze constitutions at the linguistic level. Just as literary language is rich with indications of influence, genre, and authorship, constitutional language contains telltale signs of the mix of influences at work. Conventional empirical research methods that rely on the manual coding of documents are poorly suited to studying subtle linguistic patterns. However, new methods from computational linguistics excel at identifying such patterns and enable us to measure how much of a text is associated with a particular topic, influence, or genre.

This chapter from the forthcoming volume Constitution-Making and Transnational Legal Order employs a technique known as topic modeling to analyze over two centuries worth of national constitutions, together with a selection of international human rights treaties, for telltale signs of various influences on constitutional drafting. The results suggest that certain hegemonic forces have left a profound impact on constitutional texts at the linguistic level. To be more specific, topic modeling identifies linguistic manifestations of four highly prevalent TLOs at the constitutional level: British colonialism, French colonialism, Spanish colonialism, and socialism. Each of these transnational legal orders is associated with a distinctive genre, or dialect, of constitutional language. Changes over time in the popularity of these constitutional dialects are the linguistic artifacts of the rise and fall of competing empires.

Keywords: constitutions, transnational legal orders, computational linguistics, constitutional dialect, colonialism, british, french, spanish, constitutional genre, constitution-making, automated text analysis, automated content analysis, topic model, constitution-making

Suggested Citation

Law, David S., Constitutional Dialects: The Language of Transnational Legal Orders (December 13, 2018). Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-12-xx; Constitution-Making and Transnational Legal Order (Gregory Shaffer, Tom Ginsburg & Terence Halliday eds., Cambridge University Press, 2019, Forthcoming); Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper ; University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2019/003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3300808

David S. Law (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

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St. Louis, MO 63130
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314-266-9698 (Phone)
314-935-5356 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.davidlaw.ca

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
China

HOME PAGE: http://www.davidlaw.ca

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science ( email )

One Brookings Drive
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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