Law, Language, and Power: English and the Production of Ignorance in International Law

Gabriel M. Lentner

Abstract


In this article I examine the unintentional production of ignorance following from the hegemony of the English language in international law scholarship and its impact on legal outcomes. In doing so, I am influenced by critical discourse analysis (CDA), specifically following Fairclough and Van Dijk and their focus on the relationship between language and power – specifically their focus on how language contributes to the domination of some people over others. In developing this I start with arguing that the dominance of English in the expert discourse in international law means that priority is given to certain narratives (e.g., the canon of Western philosophy) and epistemologies (of ignorance) over others. This is because the use of English appears to be symptomatic of the dominance of Western (Euro-American) legalism, and the use of English may reinforce this dominance. Illustrating these points, I use the dissenting opinion of Judge Weeramantry in the Nuclear Weapons case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and international criminal law. I conclude with some reflections on law and language more generally and propose themes for further research and offer practical suggestions for a more pluralistic knowledge production in international law.

Cite as: Lentner, JLL 8 (2019): 50–66, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2019.050


Keywords


power; international law; critical discourse studies; experts; narrative; argumentation

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14762/jll.2019.050

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