This paper investigates nominalization in English and Italian legal discourse. In particular, it inspects the syntactic structure of complex noun phrases in the two languages and identify their crucial pragmatic functions and effects in a textual dimension and in relation to the type of discourse. The investigation of English and Italian data taken from normative legal texts will show that, although in Italian there is a greater tendency towards nominal style than there is in English, nominalization is a common feature of both legal Italian and legal English (Altieri Biagi 1974; Cortelazzo 1990; Gotti 1991; Williams 2004b; Di Renzo Villata 2007; Garzone 2008). Data will also show that, in both languages, nominalization meets many of the requirements of legal writing (Bhatia 1993). Firstly, it contributes to the formal register and highly impersonal style of legal documents. Secondly, it prevents ambiguity and favours precision. Lastly, it may sacrifice concision, generality and simplicity to gain all-inclusiveness, specificity and complexity. In legal discourse, nominalization gives actions and concepts ontological relevance, emphasizing the authoritativeness of the law and increasing its control over the addressee. Furthermore, it creates a network of lexico-semantic references allowing the writer to refer back to previously introduced ideas, and the reader to follow the logical progression of the text and to compensate for his/her interpretative difficulties with the continuity and stability of reference of the text.
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