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Wednesday, July 3 • 2:15pm - 2:55pm
Semantic density in Zimbabwean judgements: Implications for social justice

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This presentation is based on ongoing PhD research into the development of the legal judgment as a genre in Zimbabwe from 1960 to 2010 in terms of its capacity to build sufficient knowledge on issues presented before the courts and the implications of this for social justice. A legal judgment attracts attention owing to the differences in the interests and levels of understanding of its audiences. These are the litigants, legal professionals and the public. In the context of Zimbabwe, the period 1960 to 2010 sits astride two epochs, one being colonial and the other being postcolonial. These eras were characterised by ideological conflicts which could find expression in genres such as judgments. Genres, being artefacts, have the potential to reveal past and present practices. Cognisant of the above, the following are the research questions for the overall research project:
a) What linguistic resources do Zimbabwean judgments written between 1960 and 2010 draw on in terms of:
i) ideational meaning; and
ii) interpersonal meaning?
b) What are the similarities and differences between the semantic profiles of the colonial and postcolonial judgments?
c) What are the implications of the semantic profiles for social justice during the respective epochs?
d) How can the linguistic resources in the legal judgments be best deployed in order to achieve a semantic profile that enhances effective knowledge building in matters to do with social justice in a manner that suits all the audiences of judgments?

There is a strong relationship between civil suits and social justice as the former is the only legal way to claim property rights and benefits recognised at law. Social justice entails a just relationship between an individual and society. It is measured by opportunities, privileges, compensation and distribution of resources among individuals. The construal of justice is both deontic and axiological: some acts/ideas are construed as permitted while others are prohibited; and some acts/ideas are construed as being more just than others (Vallentyne, 2003). This underlines the relevance of focusing on ideational and interpersonal meanings in the judgments and the relationships of these linguistic resources to epistemic- and axiological-semantic density. Semantic profiles are useful for inferring the degree to which the judgments successfully build knowledge around matters at hand. Differences in the semantic profiles of the judgments in different epochs can assist one in inferring aspects of the evolution of the genre as a knowledge practice. On the other hand, SFL shows that genres evolve as society adapts them to better serve their functions. This evolution can be observed through examining the ideational and interpersonal metafunctions.

The research thus employs an eclectic theoretical framework of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), specifically the Semantics dimension (Maton, 2014) and selected Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) resources outlined by Martin and Rose (2007) and Martin (2017). The SFL resources are grammatical metaphor, technicality, attitude, engagement and graduation. These resources are known to have strong relationships with semantic density (Martin, 2017). SFL and LCT have been enacted in a linear arrangement, where SFL resources are analysed first and interfaced with semantic density within the broad context of social justice.

In the presentation, I partly focus on questions (b) and (c), without making the comparisons that the questions imply as I focus on only one postcolonial judgment made in 2010: a civil case entitled ‘Mafusire v Greyling & Anor’. Results show that the shape of the semantic profile is affected by the discourse function of respective sections of the judgment and that some parts of the profile exhibit more potential for knowledge-building than others. Whereas some parts show a flatline, most parts show waves within waves. Concepts that have stronger sematic density are unpacked through use of other lower-order concepts or technical terms, which require to be explained in their own right thereby giving rise to small waves within the bigger waves. I argue that such characteristics serve different audiences of judgments in different ways. Importantly, non-professionals are afforded a window to peep into what is legally acceptable through the explanations, which is a positive step in the direction of entrenching social justice in a society.



Speakers

Wednesday July 3, 2019 2:15pm - 2:55pm
Room B46

Attendees (4)