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Linguistics and the language of law

By Janet Harron | Feb. 19, 2009

A partnership between the Faculty of Arts and the Department of Justice continues to help justice workers in Labrador understand the language of the law.

Since 2007, Dr. Marguerite MacKenzie and Dr. Douglas Wharram of the Linguistics Department have led a number of workshops focusing on bridging understanding between those who speak Innu-aimun and Inuktitut but don’t necessarily have training in legal terminology, and those familiar with the legal lexicon, but not the languages spoken by community members.

The project has already born fruit. In 2008, two books of criminal law terms were produced, one for Inuktitut and one containing separate glossaries for the two dialects of Innu-aimun spoken in Labrador. Now a new set of glossaries resulting from the second round of workshops, focusing on the language of family law, have been published.

“These glossaries are tangible examples of what can be done when government supports researchers. Both the general and legal community in Labrador will benefit enormously from this project and we hope the partnership can continue to support future publications,” said Dr. MacKenzie.

Drs. MacKenzie and Wharram are off to Labrador next week to teach in the training course for court interpreters at the College of the North Atlantic in Goose Bay. The glossaries will be used extensively throughout the training course.

The Innu terminology created from this project will be used in the larger Innu dictionary being compiled within Dr. MacKenzie’s SSHRC-funded CURA project to develop resources for the language.

Representatives from the Department of Justice approached the Faculty of Arts in the spring of 2007 to initiate the sessions, which are largely funded by that department. Lawyers from the Public Legal Information Association and the Labrador Legal Aid Commission have provided plain English explanations of the terminology.

In addition, plain English versions of two frequently used court documents prepared by Judge John Joy, the Recognizance and the Undertaking, have also been translated into Inuktitut and Innu-aimun. If these documents are adopted for use in the provincial and federal court system, Aboriginal people will have one more tool to assist them in encounters with the justice system.


April 25, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
IIC-2014, Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation
April 25, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
IIC-2014, Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation
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