Challenges for bilingual legal education: Evidence from a Malaysian Law Faculty

Powell, R. and Chew, L.H. (2015) Challenges for bilingual legal education: Evidence from a Malaysian Law Faculty. In: The 12th Biennial Conference on Forensic Linguistics (Language and Law), 6-9 July 2015, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS), Guangzhou, China.

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Several common law jurisdictions (e.g. Bangladesh, Hong Kong) and some civil law systems (Macao, Timor Leste) function in two or more languages as a result of retaining laws and legal networks that evolved in a colonial medium while attempting to enhance legal transparency or conform to national language policies by recognizing local languages of wider communication. Unlike systems that mediate language difference through interpreting and translation, bilingual systems place a particular linguistic onus on lawyers, many of whom have to switch languages when switching communication sites (superior court, subordinate court, office etc.), communicative tasks (drafting litigation, commercial documents or submissions), or interlocutors (judges, witnesses, clients). It might be expected that bilingual teaching and the provision of bilingual resources at law school would be indispensable to raising proficiently bilingual lawyers. Yet comprehensive bilingual legal education appears unusual. The study reported on here focused on language policies and practices in the law faculty of the University of Malaya, the oldest of six public law-teaching institutions in Malaysia, where the medium of law is Malay but English is also admitted officially and used widely. Investigations were conducted. over a year using a multifunctional approach influenced by the paradigm of language planning that targeted language status (e.g. curricula), corpus (teaching and research materials), acquisition (teaching and learning strategies) and discourse (mission statements, students' and teachers' views). Research methods included documentary analysis, surveys, interviews, focus groups and class observations. Despite the likelihood that most lawyers will need both Malay and English upon admission, law teaching emerged not so much as a purposeful inculcation of bilingual competence across a range of legal tasks as a series of compromises between policies favouring Malay and practices regarding English as more important - whether because of the kind of lawyers the faculty hopes to produce or because of recognition that English is the weaker language for most students when they enter the university. Some lecturers habitually switch between the two languages, and in theory students may choose which one to write reports and exams in. In practice, however, most lecturers favour English, as do students themselves despite generally feeling more confident in Malay. English legal resources in the library and on websites greatly outnumber those in Malay. Preference for English seems to be influenced by a view that the tasks lawyers perform in it generally impose more of a linguistic burden than those carried out in Malay.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: Conference paper
Uncontrolled Keywords: Malaysian Law Faculty; National language; Common law jurisdictions; Bilingual legal education
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Law
Depositing User: Mr. Mohd Safri
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2017 03:24
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2017 03:24

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