Language and Linguistics, Literature and Law

Languages (plural) and Laws (plural)


Multilingual and translational activities: Languages and language learning, legal and literary matters (all senses), and comparative law.

Sphinx AGNSW

Vranken 1

Reading Vranken’s Western Legal Traditions’s chaper 1: ‘System Building in Law’ on the train the other day, two things became immediately obvious:

  • the state of comparative law now is the same as what the state of linguistics was in mediæval times a thousand years ago
  • the study of comparative law requires an anthropologist


The first point is from having dipped into Rita Copeland and Ineke Sluiter (eds.), Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric: Language art and literary theory, AD 300–1475 (Oxford University Press, 2009), where the conceptual constructs used back then are similar to the ones Comparative Law uses now, mapping other systems to one’s (ideal) own, and proceeding from there.

The second point has already started, it turns out. For example, ‘Recognition of the social construction of facts and taxonomies would be a good start.’ – Günter Frankenberg, ‘Critical Histories of Comparative Law’, in Markus D Dubber and Christopher Tomlins (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Legal History (Oxford University Press, 2018), 43–62, p 55.

Setting up binary opposites as a comparison method doesn’t really get anyone any further. Especially as both systems, Civil and Common, are somewhere in the middle, not at the poles.

It’s like saying a practitioner will never need or use theory, and a theoretician will never need to think about practical matters.

(A)                         (B)
inquistorial                adversarial
written→‘on the papers’     verbal→‘day in court’
deductive                   inductive
applied principle           derived principle
abstract & abstruse→panel   case-based & facts→jury
intellectual                pragmatic
theoreticians               practitioners
university trained          inns-of-court pupillage
codified→cassation          incremental→precedent

An analogy:
How will we compare ball sports?

Tennis, football, baseball, cricket, basketball, volley ball, lacrosse, polo, croquet, pool and snooker. Golf. Handball.

They need a round(ish) object, and two teams of one or more players.

Activities involving hands and feet only; involving a hand-held implement.

Single-player on a side; multiple players.

Darts could count as an honorary ball-sport, being individual player(-at-a-time) or team play (one at a time), with hand involvement, although the object being manipulated isn’t round. Not entirely.


Another analogy is comparing alphabets:


A user of the ABC: What to make of Cyrillic?

Some letters are the same shape as Roman letters (АЕОТ), others similar (ИЯ), and others not (ЖШЧ). Physicists and mathematicians would recognise that some are Greek-shaped (ГДПФ). Greek heritage explains why some letters look the same as Roman ones, but are pronounced differently (Р = R, С = S). And so on. So the STOP sign says СТОП.


Mapping horizontally, letter to letter, or system component to system component, does nor make things simpler or easier to understand. In fact, it adds in an extra layer of mental effort, an emulation-transformation step, which loses/adds information as the boundary is crossed.

Is Common Law IOR, and Civil Law ЮЯ?


Thoughts from reading
Martin Vranken, Western Legal Traditions: A Comparison of Civil Law and Common Law (The Federation Press, 2015).

The Bite of Precedence


Ever practical.

It’s interesting that, for newcomers, when the phrase ‘bound by precedent‘ is heard, the natural instinct is to think that it encapsulates the entire system (and so is easy to remember), and when the realization later arrives that it is actually more ‘bound by precedent when the case is like-for-like‘, the amount of reading that that implies then de-encapsulates the pithy summary and there is nothing to memorise in the now opened-up vistas of scouring the landscape for cases (via an extensive reporting, indexing and cross-referencing system), on the one hand, and of the analogical and classificatory deep and agile reasoning now required, on the other hand. It’s a lot of work and effort, with the answer at the end turning into: It depends.

At this point, the stream of prospective law students splits into two: one plunging in and on, and the other going off to water other meadows.


It’s also interesting that the courts, over the centuries, did not consolidate and codify things beyond the practice and procedure level, choosing, instead (although there were exceptions), to elaborate rules and principles further rather than conceptually prune and simplify. The matter is, politely, left to the legislature, if it feel so inclined. (And recent ones are inclined, witness the financial regulation flurry.)


It’s also interesting, again, the Common Law knows about Civil Law.


More fully in this particular case (which was about how to treat the evidence of what used to be called a lunatic*):




Partly that had to do with Civil Law not having to publicly guide a jury through the maze of facts, probably: a case fell within the ambit, or it didn’t (or the threshold ‘can’t decide’).


*Spoilers: the witness understood the obligations of an oath.



Rock carvings, channels, stories, and the young age of the Nile delta, all point to the Sahara being wetter and greener in former times. And the windblown soil of the modern Sahara fertilizes the Amazon.

If a deep-time climate study finds that the Sahara is one of the ‘permanent’ deserts, then perhaps the Nile emptying into the Atlantic in prehistoric times wasn’t such a big affair (and where? Some old delta deposits might be waiting to be found). And the Nile-less Egyptian area would have been a western extension of the Arabian Desert. Perhaps the turning point was when the Old Kingdom first appeared.

And would a green Sahara have made a less jungley Amazon?





If Zeus were a volcano (or an eruption), the birth of Athena fully-formed from his brow would have been a spectacular sight and, for the survivors, a memorable one.




John of Salisbury is talking in the context of students going to university and then getting jobs in bakeries (today it would be pizzerias) and so Cornificius (today it would be Adjunct Professor Dough) therefore wanting the industrification of the curriculum.

The carping hasn’t stopped. Today it would be grumpy old men.

Steve Pinker has come across them in the linguistic sphere (Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2015)).

What the language purists do:
(pp 302–303): never look it up; have unsound arguments; confuse anecdote with the state of the world; use false dichotomies; base arguments on people, not reasons.

There is:
(p 300): misplaced emotion; the self-proclaimed defenders outdoing each other with tasteless invective; ‘The hyperbole often shades into misanthropy’, which tactic (p 192): ‘easily mixes with racism or class prejudice’

They present themselves as:
(p 298): unschooled or worse; their arguments are patently illogical; they reason ‘like Superman’s famous wardrobe malfunction’

Experts know; purists don’t know:
(p 195): purists are ignoramuses; ‘screwball reasons’

To declare that English should follow Latin, or that a word keeps its original meaning, is a
(p 200): ‘crackpot theory’

There is a choice phrase Pinker uses:
(p 219): neurologically intact

That will come in handy.

In sum,
Language purists belong to the GOM Squad of Commentary and come up with (actually, copy-paste) half-baked ideas that they expect everyone else to swallow.

Legal purists are, and do, the same.



Pinker’s book is quite good, by the way. Deep, easy to follow. Well-written. (Allusions are not footnoted; just assumed to be part of the Zeitgeist.)

Language (and mind) is all about strings, trees, and webs (of meaningful sounds and their visual counterparts, information transfer containers, and concepts).

Even dogs do it.

And probably everything else, too, for that matter.


Update on Battery

Grrr! Rigmarole — been, not offline, but out-line.

System (w10) decided it was a convenient time to update at 5:14 am, which is convenient, except that the battery was already low by then and didn’t survive the workload: result — one lost laptop.

Ideally, if an updater is smart enough to know what the time is, it ought to be smart enough to know if the battery is going to last long enough (and if it won’t, to take contingent action, like parking the update at a pausable stage to be resumed later).

Hint: programmers (might) orbit Use-Case Planet but don’t actually live there.

Google is a good way of seeing how the product is faring. But building support tools and ancillary scaffolding (or designing a user-friendly update process in the first place) is probably not profitable for the vendor where it is the user who is absorbing the time, effort and expense. All that unpaid overtime by the user is a gift to the vendor. Which implies that the ways and methods of getting into the Electronic Universe will be discardable: if the laptop is the window or line into that world and is now clunked and a paperweight, get another one, or something else, and repopulate that access point with an info-clone.

That just leaves the problem of what the information has been cloned on.


Code building is like DNA assemblage

It’s automateable, in other words: given a recipe (what to do when) and the ingredients (input parameters and constants), a functional processing unit can be assembled (‘the code’) which, when run, can produce the desired output (in the case of physics, that is the Universe, and in the case of a jurisdiction, that is the legal system applicable there; but in this case, typesetting using tex, the output is a PDF file, with everything arranged just-so).

Using a font-sampler/displayer as a paradigm, with a focus on multilingual matters (plus doing an experiment about using ruby text as a transliteration mechanism for, as examples, Armenian and Georgian scripts (which involved creating a dummy gloss-georgian.ldf file for Polyglossia to find, every other language except Georgian having one)), the result is:


Acknowledgement: Transliterations with the assistance of Omniglot.





The FontSample pdf output



The FontSample main tex file


The fonts_doscripts input tex file



Georgian to Latin map file


Georgian to Latin tec file



Armenian to Latin map file


Armenian to Latin tec file



Gloss Georgian ldf file for Polyglossia




Bonus for Egyptologists:

For Egyptian Hieroglyphs, the Gardner Number to Hieroglyph map file


The Gardner Number to Hieroglyph tec file




Addendum 04-Jan-2019

Digits transliteration mapping experiment works:




Digits folder (files: map and tec; tex and pdf; and one placeholder ldf file (Balinese, for Polyglossia))


PDF (the output)




The ingredients for each language are:

a mapping file (.map) to compile into a .tec file with teckit_compile.exe; the core of the .map file is the Unicode from-to mapping:

e.g. for Balinese:

U+0030 <> U+1B50 ; 0 / ᭐

U+0031 <> U+1B51 ; 1 / ᭑

U+0032 <> U+1B52 ; 2 / ᭒

U+0033 <> U+1B53 ; 3 / ᭓

U+0034 <> U+1B54 ; 4 / ᭔

U+0035 <> U+1B55 ; 5 / ᭕

U+0036 <> U+1B56 ; 6 / ᭖

U+0037 <> U+1B57 ; 7 / ᭗

U+0038 <> U+1B58 ; 8 / ᭘

U+0039 <> U+1B59 ; 9 / ᭙


A font containing the glyphs is needed – the free Noto fonts from Google are quite useful here.

Then in Latex, declare a new font family and apply the mapping to it; declare a new environment using that mapped font; and, for convenience, a wrapper applying that environment to the supplied text, so that feeding it a 1, for example, produces a ᭑ (in the Balinese mapping).


%======== Balinese digits transliteration

\newfontfamily{\flearndbal}[Mapping=arabic-to-balinese,Scale=1.8]{Noto Sans Balinese}









The intended purpose is to print the correct digits in order to learn how to write and read the numbers.


Addendum 06-Jan-2019

Legal Essay Template POC WIP is up and looking quite workable:


Footnoting has only just started (about 2%), but numbered paragraphs, table of cases, shorthand abbreviations are done. Additional features: authority and statute quotation blocks, judgment headings as mini-table of contents, and a words-and-phrases accumulator.


Sidenote: Tex is a real typesetting app, and impressive.
With the idea of having a title/subtitle something like this, in default formatting and then after moving the two lines closer together (by -0.35em) to form more of a visual unit:

it’s obvious that the second lines needs to shrink in a touch to be visually balanced so making the second line the same width as the first, plus a step up in size, gives:
(never mind the bolding tryout)



and because of an optical illusion at both ends, relating to the tail of the t-character at the end of the first line and the left leg of the A-character at the start of the second, the second line can shrink in an ever-so tiny touch more, by the width of a cat’s whisker (2.5pt at both ends):





Doctor Who – Series 11 (2018)

‘JodieWhittaker as the first female Doctor nails it.’1 – says a local newspaper, looking back at the television year that was 2018.

Quite true. Well done!

1The Sydney Morning Herald (17 Dec. 2018), The Guide, p 4.

Test link to PDF on Google Drive:

shared PDF (WIP): Dr Who series 11 (review)

Embedding a document requires a plug-in, which in turn apparently requires an upgrade from Free to Business Plan.


Referencing TV series with Biblatex

Start of a biblatex style for TV series: bibtvseries.

The episode bib entry (@bibtvepisode) is a child of the series bib entry (@bibtvseries), so biblatex inheritance comes into play.

Using as an example the episode of Lost in Space (the 60s version) where Dr Smith finds what turns out to be a space vending machine, and dials up silver-skinned android Verda:



An exercise in defining new entry types.

The code:




  title   = {Lost in Space},

  titleabbrev = {LiS},

  year = {1966\textendash 1968},

  numberseasons = {3},

  numberepisodes = {99},

  genre = {science fiction},

  genreb = {space adventure},

  setting = {outer space},

  timeperiod = {1997},

  producer = {Irwin Allen},

  creator = {Irwin Allen},

  premise = {space family explorers lost in space},

  like = {Swiss Family Robinson in space},



  seriesnumber = {2},

  episodenumber = {7},

  episodecount = {18},

  precis = {The one where Penny has an adventure},

  discseasonset ={2.1},

  discnumber = {2},

  episodetitle = {The Android Machine},

  director = {Don Richardson},

  writer = {Bob Duncan and Wanda Duncan},

  gueststar = {Dee Hartford as Verda},

  related = {lis},

  relatedtype = {episode},

  crossref = {lis},





\DeclareDatamodelFields[type=field, datatype=literal]{

%  title,

%  year,







\DeclareDatamodelFields[type=field, datatype=literal]{






\DeclareDatamodelFields[type=list, datatype=name]{

























  \ProvidesFile{english-bibtvseries.lbx}[2018/11/15 english with additions for TV series]


  \NewBibliographyString{series, episode, as, director, writer, producer, numseasons, creator,}


    inherit   = {english},

    series     = {{series}{series}},

    episode     = {{episode}{ep}},

    as     = {{as}{as}},

    director  = {{director}{dir}},

    writer    = {{writer}{written by}},

    producer    = {{producer}{produced by}},

    numseasons = {{seasons}{x}},

    creator = {{creator}{created by}},







%\usepackage{textglos}% xv



\usepackage[datamodel=bibtvseries, backend=biber]{biblatex}








\printfield{seriesnumber}\adddot \printfield{episodenumber}%








































%  \setunit{}%















  \mkbibquote{\printfield{episodetitle}} %

%  \setunit{\addspace}%


%	   \usebibmacro{seriestitle}




%  \usebibmacro{seriesname}%


%  \addspace%












%  \usebibmacro{seriesproducer}

  \usebibmacro{seriescreator}   \setunit{\adddot}%
















When the space race was on and \cite{lis} came out, the series \citetitle{lis}, the whole world was amazed.


Series fullcite, as for a caption: 





Episode fullcite: \fullcite{lis-tam}

Without the names: \citeeptitlemed{lis-tam}

Episode title cite: \citeeptitle{lis-tam}

Episode footcite: text\footcite[See][with Verda as a silver-skinned Tin Man]{lis-tam}

Episode footfullcite: text\footfullcite{lis-tam}

Episode title cite with shortref: \citeeptitleref{lis-tam}

%Verda is an \xv[Tin Man]{android}, therefore silver-coated, and a \xv[easily distracted by flowers and easily frightened by cave-dwelling Moss Monsters]{female}, therefore does not realise that she could use her superior strength, skill, ability and reflexes. Must be the programming. Which is enhanced by a male, of course (Dr Smith). And appreciatively appraised by another (Mr Zumdish, from the Complaints Department). Very sixties. TV, that is.