Prof. Rebecca Spitzmiller (RomaTre University) and Dr. Stefania Gialdroni on Law & Language (applied)

Dear students,download

the next three classes will be devoted to the analysis of the “Language of the Law” from two different perspectives. The first class will propose a linguistic analysis of legal texts, taking as an example the Italian Constitution (Gialdroni). The other two classes will face the problem of legal texts focusing on the challange of translation, providing lots of examples and little exercises (Spitzmiller).


– The reading about the “Language of the Italian Constitution” is unfortunately written in Italian. Anyway, as there is no comparable article related to this issue, it is suggested even though not compulsory.

Prof. Spitzmiller asks you to read and do the exercises from “Legal English” by Maria Gigliola di Renzo Villata before the lessons. This text was prepared for Italian speakers but it should also be useful for visiting Erasmus and other international students since we assume they are also studying in some Italian law courses and thus learning legal Italian. This reading will make aware of some common mistakes and point out some “false friends” between English and Italian.  For non mother-tongue Italian speakers, in the exercises that compare English and Italian terms they might do well to try and translate both into their own language, to see which friends are “true friends” in their native tongues.

– The other two articles, “Exploring Students’ Engagement…” and the Jessup article, both regard language-learning based on two initiatives at Roma Tre, one of which the students in Law and the Humanities are now participating: “Studying Law at Roma Tre.” The other is the Jessup international moot court competition, a very challenging yearly endeavor in which Roma Tre has participated for about ten years now. These two articles could provide an opportunity to reflect on the very processes by which students learn a foreign legal language and could form the basis of general discussion on that topic.

De Mauro, Tullio, Il linguaggio della Costituzione, in «Costituzione della Repubblica italiana (1947)»,  Torino-Roma 2006, pp. VII-XXXII.

Di Renzo Villata, Maria Gigliola (ed. by), Legal English, Assago: Cedam 2011 (2007), pp. 51-64.

Walbaum Robinson, Isabel Alice and Spiztmiller, Rebecca, Exploring students’ engagement with the curriculum in a law programme taught in English at an Italian University, pp. 1-13.

Spitzmiller, Rebecca, THE PHILLIP C JESSUP INTERNATIONAL LAW MOOT COURT COMPETITION: A TOOL FOR TEACHING/LEARNING LEGAL ENGLISH, in “European Journal of Legal Education”, 3.2 (2006), pp. 111-119.

Prof. Spiztmiller CV

Lawyer, Professor (Agg.) in Comparative Law at Università degli studi Roma Tre; Adjunct Professor (Co-Instructor) LUISS University School of Management; Instructor of Legal English for the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura and for the Scuola Superiore dell’Avvocatura; Author, Editor & Translator (Italian to English); Member of the Florida Bar Association.

The full version of Prof. Spitzmiller’s CV is available HERE.


13 thoughts on “Prof. Rebecca Spitzmiller (RomaTre University) and Dr. Stefania Gialdroni on Law & Language (applied)

  1. Federica Celli says:

    When we talked about the necessity of a comprehensible law at lesson today, I thought about a legal case I’ve studied, the Punta Perotti’s case. In my opinion this case represents the realistic danger that we risk with incomprehensible laws. Punta Perotti is a commercial complex that was built in a protected natural area near seaside of Bari. For this reason It was sequestered by the judge of Bari, but then the builders proceeded before the European Court of Justice, which condemned Italy to a compensation due to the incomprehensible and thus unknowable laws.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chiara Casuccio says:

    I’ve been inspired by this lesson about the legal language, and, in particular, by the main question ” does the legal language create a lobby of “elected” people who only can understand it?” , and I thought about a book I read a year ago. This book, “La regola dell’equilibrio”, has been written by Gianrico Carofiglio , an ex magistrate and italian politician who definitely is aware about legal language and laws’ structures. It narrates the avventures a of a lawyer, Guido Guerrieri, who finds himself to defend a judge accused of corruption. But, what is important to us is a little extract which totally summarizes the main concern about what has been told today about legal language. Here I’m relating it (unfortunately it’s in italian!) :
    So, if legal language is voluntarily written and spoken to be understood only by “ones of the trade”, what will become of the rule “ignorantia legis non excusat”? – Isn’t it a paradox, that I have to obbey to something I cannot understand, because nobody ( in the first place the lagislator who was supposed to write rules in such a way that I could easily comprehend them) gave me the right tools?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chiara Casuccio says:

    This is the quotation: “Lo so che “pregressa sussistenza” è un’ espressione orribile. Molte di quelle che usiamo noi avvocati lo sono. Io cerco di limitarmi, ma spesso inevitabile. Ci sono giudici, o colleghi, con i quali non puoi evitare di parlare in modo orribile.sì in un’arringa o una requisitoria parli in italiano corretto, non ti riconoscono come uno del mestiere. Sei una cui non dare credito. Il gergo dei giuristi è la lingua straniera che imparano, che impariamo, sin dall’università per essere ammessi nella corporazione. È una lingua tanto più apprezzata quanto più è capace di escludere i non addetti ai lavori dalla comprensione di quello che avviene nelle aule di giustizia e di quello che si scrive negli atti giudiziari. Una lingua sacerdotale e stracciona al tempo stesso, in cui formule misteriose e ridicole si accompagnano a violazioni sistematiche della grammatica e della sintassi”


  4. Beatrice Giordano says:

    As we said today,the obscurity of the law is linked to the “ignorantia legis non excusat”, which plays an important role in the criminal law. An example could be represented by what we call “reati culturalmente orientati”; they occur when our system considers a type of offence which is not considered a crime in another country. In this case, the judge has the duty to take into account the different culture and background. In fact, practices like infibulation or bigamy are accepted in other cultures even if they are considered crimes in our system. So, they can resort the ignorantia legis if the text of the law is obscure and their mistake is forgivable. A foreign person could easily find a law obscure, but there are some offences that are perceived outrageous by everyone and this is the limit of the “ignorantia legis non excusat”.


  5. Elena Francis says:

    On the basis of what we have said yesterday with Dr. Stefana Gialdroni, i had the chance to think about the real meaning of what we call a “language”, about its importance and its relevance in history. What “language” is? Of course it is something that allowed us to express our opinions, thoughts, ideas, but also our feelings. Language is not only a group of words put in a sintax, but also another way of expression ( think, for example,about body language). Language is the main tool that mankind has to collaborate and to enhance an improvement of our world. Even in the past, the importance of language was particularly underlined. Indeed, the Romans were dedicated to a particular literary genre, the “oratoria”(in latin). They spoke about “ars oratoria”, a real art of speech, and in particular they analised the form of the language and the way to express this language. The Romans created a real path for language, divided into five parts: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, actio. They thought that this path should be used by orators. The Romans also identified the rules that an orator should follow in his behavioure. At firs he has to catch the interest and the attention of the audience and in the end he has to reach and touch those who are listening. The orator Cato created the figure of the “vir bonus dicendi peritus”, which means a man who is very expert and good in speaking, and underlined the fact that a good speaker, or orator, has to know and understand what he intends to say and that, in this way, words eventually will come. In latin he said “rem tene, verba sequentur”. This is, i think, the “primate of meaning” ( il primato del senso) about which we have read in the text ” Il linguaggio della Costituzione”. Also Cicero and Quintiliano were very involved in studing the art of speech.
    In every era language is an important subject and it is very interensting to see how language has changed in time, in what way it was perceived by the audience, and how a lot of people tried to create an uniformed language (Dante Alighieri, for example, is considered one of the fathers of the italian language and still today we can see that a lot of basic words of common use are the same words used by Dante Alighieri in the “Divine Comedy”).
    We know that important features of language should be clarity, simplicity and its ability to incite the sensitivity of other people. We read the text about the italian Constitution and we learned that it is a very simple and of course a very good text because it is understandable to everybody.
    In the end, i belive that it is fundamental to understand the real importance that language has in each fields of humanities studies, like literature, architecture, theatre etc. Of course language is a central element in law, because it is an instrument to create good and better laws and to render them more applicable: a clear and simple law is more understandable and we can apply it in a better way.


  6. Anthony J. Cacciotti says:

    March 20th: What a great lesson!
    During my whole academic career I’ve been studying pages and pages of doctrine and theorical profiles of law, but with this “Law & the Humanities” class something has changed. It’s based on interactions with students, just like today’s lesson; Prof. Spitzmiller brought the typical “common law” approach, way different from ours, focused on practice and live exercizes. She explained and demonstrated all the steps for a negotiation, how lawyers are supposed to act during these moments and what kind of “leading questions” they’re supposed to ask they’re clients in order to obtain all the information they need to make a transaction, or a deal in general. It was interesting -and kinda funny- pretending to be a lawyer, and trying to make fictional deals with other fake attorneys.
    Thumbs up guys, keep it that way!


  7. Diana Martellini says:

    what a enlightening lesson! talking out loud about this thing really makes you think, because the problem of the language is real, and maybe after years and years studying law you just stop paying attention to the fact that basically, most of it it’s unintelligible and lack readibility.
    this lesson was a celebration of what i think is the most accurate law text in italy (the constitution), and i hope that who will write laws in the future (but even the judges, who also share this issues due to the fact the sadly often also the verdict use an uncecessary and confusing complicated languages) will take insipration from its elegant, simple, essential and effective language.


  8. Pamela Porfili says:

    Wonderful lesson today!
    I’ve already attended International business contract with professor Spitzmiller,so I had a pretty good idea of what these lessons would be about, but despite that, it’s always interesting and challenging to study law in a different way, or if I can say in a less traditional way for us.
    In Italy (and continental Europe) we have a different method for studying law that is based more on memorizing huges textbooks, than practice and have for example simulation of trials where every single word you say is important, and make you realize that it isn’t easy to use an effective and appropriate language when you try to make a point (and lawyers should master the use of language, also because it’s their only real weapon).
    We also read a case, and it always strikes me how different is the language used in American case from the italian ones, where it is sumptuous, not very clear and difficult to understand.


  9. Elena Francis says:

    I’m enthusiastic about the lessons held by Prof. Rebecca Spitzmiller, in particular the last lesson. I think that this is a good way of teaching: interactive and dynamic lessons are an efficient method to understand the meanings and the concepts, and a really funny and amusing way to learn. During these lessons i was very involved because, for me, it represented something new and, in a certain sense, something strange, compared with the normal and routine lessons which i’m used to attend. Throught these lessons i’ ve comprehended the deep distance between the common and the civil systems, in particular the lawyer’s behavioure and the lawyer’s main tasks, which are different in the two systems; the different approach to teaching; and the opposite styles of the judicial decisions: on one side, clear, simple and more intimate judjement (common law). On the other side, complex, obscure and impersonal judgements (civil law). I agree to what our Prefessors said a few days ago: we are luky to partecipate in this course, which gives us the opportunity to test a unique and very singular experience in an international and variegated framework.


  10. Martina Diglio says:

    I would like to share with you a thought that I have been having in my mind for a long time and that is part of way I decided to join this class. As we said during this week’s lessons, there is the perception, surely justified, that who is studying law is learning “a language” and that this language is often obscure and incomprehensible. Consequently, studying law means to join kind of a “lobby” but then, as Chiara pointed out, this is paradoxal considering the rule “Ignorantia legis non excusat”. My point is: is not also paradoxal that in many schools, such as Classic or Scientific school but also in Middle school , law is not taught ? Because in my opinion the problem is not only that the laws are written in a bad way(because, as we saw during the lesson, even the Constitution, that is a clear example of a comprehensible and well written law text, can be fully understood by the entire population only with a “guided and assisted reading”) , but also that there is a lack of approach to the law in general since we are kids and then, when we grow up and we are adults we are supposed to have learnt it. How is that possibile? If I were malicious, I would say that political power want us to stay ignorant in order to control us easily (conspiracy!) . Probably I’m exaggerating but for how I see it, even in the Elementary school should be present some sort of “learning law program” because also children had their rights recognized by International Conventions (such as the “Convention on the rights of the child”) so why shouldn’t they know anything about that? How could someone (child or adult) complain about the violation of a right that he/she doesn’t know to have? In my opinion that’s the problem: shouldn’t we call for a “new Enlightenment”?


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