International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 22, No 1 (2015)

An empirical study of lay comprehension of Chinese legal reference texts in Hong Kong

Matthew W. L. Yeung, Janny H. C. Leung
Issued Date: 8 Jul 2015


This socio-legal study empirically assesses the use of plain language in improving comprehension of legal reference texts by laypeople in Hong Kong, where common-law Chinese was newly engineered. Our study shows that native Chinese speakers have problems understanding the materials, but simple modifications of the texts can significantly improve their comprehension. The results suggest that the seeming incapability of expressing law in a language may not be related to the choice of code, but to how it is written. Based on the data, this study contributes to the improvement of legal communication by identifying features of common-law Chinese that make these materials difficult to understand, and proposes language-specific plain-language strategies that can improve comprehensibility.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.v22i1.17224


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