LinguaFranca: English legal language explained /podcast

Radio National in Australia has a programme called LinguaFranca. A language or linguistics topic is discussed for 15 minutes once a week.

This week, Australian barristers begin to discuss legal terms relating to Guantanamo. This relates to the situation of David Hicks, an Australian detainee in Guantanamo. (By the way:

On one occasion when al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden visited an Afghan camp, Hicks allegedly questioned bin Laden about the lack of English in training material and, after allegedly accepting bin Laden’s advice, Hicks “began to translate the training camp materials from Arabic to English”)

In this week’s programme, by Julian Burnside, the term is habeas corpus, but there is also some discussion of enemy combatant

An ‘enemy combatant’ is an individual who, under the laws and customs of war, may be detained for the duration of an armed conflict. When the armed conflict ends, the captured enemy must be returned to his or her own country. …
By adopting the metaphor of the war on terror, the US has labelled David Hicks an enemy combatant even though Hicks is a citizen of Australia (therefore an ally) and at the relevant time was with the Taliban — the lawful government of Afghanistan — and the US has not declared war on Afghanistan. The logic beneath the surface is: the Taliban supported al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda are engaged in terrorism, we have a war on terror, those who support terrorists are our enemy, if they have a gun they are enemy combatants. …By the same reasoning, anyone captured by the US when it invaded Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden is called an enemy combatant. Since the war is a metaphorical one, the end of hostilities and the return of captured enemy combatants is delayed as long as the metaphor remains convenient or plausible. It is a predictable result of careless language.

Transcript, audio link and audio download link. (I think the programme is only live twice a week – till now I have only managed to read the transcript)

(Thanks to a poster on the Forensic Linguistics Mailing List)

10 thoughts on “LinguaFranca: English legal language explained /podcast

  1. Hi Margaret

    On a related note, I’ve just finished watching “Borat – Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” that I ordered from Amazon. Although it was extremely funny in parts, I felt like sending it back and demanding my money back because of the blatant anti-sematism. Or am I reading this film wrongly? Don’t know what others think…


  2. I haven’t got round to watching it myself. I see the Wikipedia entry mentions anti-Semitism and anti-Ziganism. Cohen is Jewish himself.
    Probably I should see it some time. I hate to call myself PC, but I suspect that I would find it amusing in parts but be irritated by those kind of things too, so I don’t know if I can be bothered.

  3. My favorite scene is one of the “deleted” ones, also available on the DVD. Borat visits a supermarket and askes to see the wonderful range of foods available on the shelves. A poor, witless supermarket worker has to patiently explain about 100 times what the various packs are in the cheese aisle. “What is this? Milk?” …”No this is cheese”, “And .. uh this”? “This is also cheese” etc. ad infinitum.


  4. Though I must say that the “eBay buys” one was a good one. I did believe it for a second… it just fits into the whole picture.

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