Evaluative language in Judicial Argumentation

Author: Stanisław Goźdź-Roszkowski, Department of Specialised Languages and Intercultural Communication, University of Lodz
Version: 1.0 (01.02.2024)
Language: English
Citation: Goźdź-Roszkowski, Stanisław (2024): Evaluative language in Judicial Argumentation, in: Sources of Language and Law (SOULL), v1.0, 01.02.2024, [Date of last access].

Basic concepts: what is evaluative language and why it matters

In the commonly held belief, judicial discourse is perceived to be impartial and logical, avoiding any language that conveys subjective assessments, particularly those associated with evaluative attitudes. Ideally, judges are expected to limit their communication to presenting facts and propositional information relevant to the decision-making process, refraining from expressing personal viewpoints. The prevailing notion suggests that judicial evaluation is incompatible with the ideal of fair and objective adjudication. However, this perspective diverges from the reality of judicial decision-making processes. Since the legal realist movement of the 1920s and the development of the Strategic Model and Attitudinal Model (Segal & Spaeth 2002), it has been acknowledged that justices’ ideologies and values influence how disputes are resolved. In fact, judges’ personal values and ideologies subtly shape their formal judicial language. The concept that judges should communicate solely in the detached and dispassionate tones of a professional has been challenged even by the judges themselves. In his influential essay, “Reason, Passion, and  the Progress of the Law”, Justice Brennan’ contends that the interplay of reason and passion is crucial for the vitality of the decision-making process. Laura Krugman Ray notes that judicial opinions can employ various rhetorical strategies to justify a position or persuade readers that the majority has made errors (2002: 233).

While the field of linguistics and linguistically-informed research has seen a growing focus on evaluation in the past two decades, only a limited number of studies acknowledge the inherently argumentative character of judicial discourse. Furthermore, few incorporate the theoretical insights and analytical tools developed in Legal Argumentation Theory (Feteris 2017; Dahlman & Feteris 2013). Even fewer studies recognize the distinct and strategic nature of justification, also known as opinion writing, within judicial writing. Additionally, these studies do not adequately consider how the strategic aspects of justification impose constraints on how judges express assessments and take positions. In the realm of judicial writing, language, especially evaluative language, serves as a crucial tool for judges who must navigate the dual imperative of justifying the rationale behind their decisions and persuading diverse audiences of the soundness of their choices. The question then arises: what exactly is evaluation or evaluative language?

Defined simply as “the broad cover term for the expression of the speaker’s or writer’s attitude or stance towards, viewpoint on, or feelings about the entities or propositions that he or she is talking about” (Thompson & Hunston 2000), evaluation is universal and ubiquitous. Even though, on its face, evaluation may seem deceptively easy to define, it is in fact extremely complex when considered in its countless applications in discourse and communication. It is not surprising that evaluation has been approached and analysed from many different disciplinary perspectives: from philosophical explorations of values, through cognitive investigations into emotion, to linguistic studies of evaluation, framed within a wide range of theories, such as appraisal (Martin & White 2005), stance (Conrad & Biber 2000) or evaluation (Thompson & Hunston 2000), and many more (for an in-depth and historical overview of the phenomenon, see Thompson & Alba-Juez (2014). The consequence of this is that anyone attempting to do research on evaluative language has to deal with a bewildering range of different terms to describe the phenomenon: ‘evaluation’ (Thompson & Hunston 2000), ‘appraisal’ (Martin & White 2005), ‘stance’ (Conrad & Biber 2000) and ‘stancetaking’ (Englebretson 2007) are just some of the most frequently adopted by linguists. However, for all the differences in terminology and methods, it is possible to offer some defining features (based on Goźdź-Roszkowski 2024):

Evaluative language represents meanings which tend to be associated with ‘subjectivity’ or ‘attitude’ rather than with ‘objectivity’ and ‘factuality’.

 The positive-negative polar axis is given more prominence than the true-false axis. While evaluation is often perceived in terms of the good-bad dichotomy, it can also be examined across a number of other parameters or values. For example, propositions can be evaluated in terms of how important or how obvious they are, or in terms of the degree of certainty or belief attached to them.

 Evaluative language fulfils many functions. Apart from expressing opinion, it performs roles in construing relationships in an interaction and in structuring discourse. Indicating an attitude towards an entity, process or proposition is important in socially significant speech acts such as persuasion and argumentation.

Evaluation has many faces. The many ways in which evaluative meanings are expressed are notoriously difficult to pinpoint. Evaluation may be overt or covert. Overt (also referred to as ‘explicit’ or ‘inscribed’) evaluation uses recognisably evaluative lexis and/or constructions identified as evaluative, for example: absurd, undesirable, it is important to, logically impeccable theory and so on. Evaluative meanings can also be covert (or evoked), which means that evaluation may be implied rather than stated explicitly. In this case, the reader may be presented with evidence for an evaluation rather than the evaluation itself.

Evaluative language has many distinct phases. The process of evaluation includes a ‘pre-textual’ or ‘pre-realization’ phase during which a decision is made whether or not perform the act of evaluation, what stance should be taken, and how the stance should be taken. In the pre-textual phase, evaluation can be regarded as a cognitive operation (Bednarek 2009), a yet-unexpressed stance which might or might not be manifested during the textual phase.

Evaluative language is dependent on context, and it is cumulative. This means that the taking items out of context is potentially an unreliable indicator of evaluative meaning and linguistic signals of evaluation may be scattered across a stretch of text and it may be necessary to study the entire text or at least a chunk of it to determine its evaluative function.

The importance of evaluation in legal discourse is self-evident for at least two reasons. First, it brings to light the importance of linguistic interactions between various legal actors, especially viewed from the perspective of stance and stance-taking. Second, the concept of evaluation is central to researching the quality and strategy of legal argumentation. When applied in the context of judicial argumentation, it turns out that evaluative language is indeed central to the construction of an argument and the expression of a standpoint.


Basic concepts: judicial justification: definitions and functions

In the context of judicial decision-making, legal justification is usually understood as the reasons and rationale given by courts in rendering their decisions. In Polish jurisprudence there have been some attempts at providing more accurate definitions of the concept of justification (Rzucidło 2020: 39–41). What these definitions share is the view that justification is a primarily an argumentative activity. For example, Kotowski explains that “in legal language, justification is treated as a presentation of a specific set of arguments to support a given thesis” (2015: 49). In what remains the fullest and most up-to-date definition of justification from the perspective of the Polish jurisprudence, Rzucidło proposes that

“justification of a court decision constitutes an act, having the form of a distinct language utterance, and supported with arguments (variously and to a varying degree), which is related to the outcome of cognitive operations. These operations aim to determine the way of understanding legal norms in the context of a specific case and its legal consequences.” (2020: 40–41)

The core function of justification, irrespective of a given jurisdiction or even legal system, is to reveal the motives and the reasoning of those judges who have provided the disposition of a particular case, in order to convince the legal community and the public that the disposition is correct. This apparently straightforward explanation becomes problematic when we realize that the range of functions associated with justification and their types can depend on many different factors. These can include factors such as: the type of procedure (e.g. appellate), the type of audiences, the nature of a specific case, and, of course, the nature of a particular judicial institution, and so on.

It is possible to distinguish several different functions of judicial justification, such as (based on Rzucidło 2020: 111–128) formal (courts are bound by law to provide a justification), descriptive (how the judges arrived at a particular outcome of a reasoning process), rationalizing (rationalize the outcome of the decision-making process), persuasive (to convince that the decision is correct), educational and cultural (promoting specific developments of law, propagating a certain vision of the State and law within the broad framework of a legal culture; appealing to the axiological and ideological dimensions of a particular legal culture with a view to ensuring the legitimacy of a decision), controlling (enabling mechanisms of reviewing a given decision).

In the context of studying evaluative language, the rationalizing and persuasive functions are most relevant. The persuasive function relies on a variety of rhetorical devices to convince the audiences of the validity of a particular decision rather than doing so solely by demonstrating the reasoning behind the decision. The distinction between the rationalizing and persuasive functions has found expression in the logical and rhetorical approaches to legal justification (see key texts on legal argumentation theory).


Overview of existing legal linguistics research into evaluative language in judicial argumentation. Quantitative methods and the use of corpus data

Doing justice to the expanding literature on this topic is challenging, particularly due to the considerable divergence in perspectives on the evaluation phenomenon, as discussed earlier. Consequently, the focus is on selected studies that exemplify what could be perceived as the most common and illustrative approaches to examining evaluation within the realm of judicial argumentation.

There is a noticeable trend toward the adoption of quantitative methodologies and the utilization of corpus data relying on various concepts, including evaluation (Mazzi 2010; Pontrandolfo & Goźdź-Roszkowski 2014), stance (Hafner 2014), attitude (Finegan 2010), stance-taking (McKeown 2022), appraisal (Heffer 2007; Pérez 2022), and evidentiality (Szczyrbak 2022). In these investigations, evaluation is examined by focusing on predefined linguistic elements associated with evaluative meaning or stance. Some other corpus-based studies of stance or evaluative language start with a language pattern either already associated with evaluative language or with a pattern that is viewed as potentially evaluative. In the latter case, corpus evidence is used to prove or disprove the evaluative potential of a given language item. Corpus-based investigations can be also undertaken to check the evaluative potential of a pre-defined language item or pattern.

Most corpus-based studies vary in the degree to which corpus analysis is accompanied or augmented by other types of investigation. It is relatively seldom that research into evaluative language is carried out based on corpus analysis alone (see Goźdź-Roszkowski & Hunston 2016). For example, identification of which phrases are likely to be maximally significant requires corpus input. Corpus-assisted discourse studies (CADS) are defined as: ”that set of studies into the form and/or function of language as communicative discourse which incorporate the use of computerised corpora in their analyses (Partington et al. 2013: 10). According to this approach, the use of computerised corpora and computational tools provides output which is treated as a starting point for a detailed and thorough qualitative analysis which examines not only the immediate co-texts of a given lexical item but also the wider institutional, social or legal contexts in which the analyzed text or texts are embedded.

Indeed, most studies go beyond mere identification and quantification of such forms, also providing interpretations of their roles in discourse. A drawback of corpus studies examining evaluation is that approaches centred on search and quantification depend on explicitly named linguistic features in texts, preferably those that occur frequently. However, evaluation is fundamentally concerned with meaning or various types of meaning, rather than solely with form. While explicit lexico-grammatical features can signify evaluation, the effective identification of evaluation as a practice goes beyond merely pinpointing specific verbal forms associated with evaluation. Moreover, interpreting the function of evaluation in discourse, particularly in judicial discourse, may necessitate a more profound understanding of discourse than can be obtained by closely examining the immediate context of a given lexical item.

Given the highly argumentative and strategic nature of judicial justifications, investigating evaluative language should involve using the methodologies of linguistics together with theories of legal argumentation in order to show the rich, complex roles that evaluative language plays in the institutional discourse of legal justification. In other words, it is necessary to take into account the uniquely strategic nature of justification (also referred to as opinion writing) as a distinct type of judicial writing, and how its strategic nature imposes constraints on how judges express assessments and take stances. Language in general, and evaluative language in particular, becomes the primary tool for judges who must balance the mandatory need to justify the reason for their decision with an almost equally imperative need to persuade various audiences that their choices are sound.


Bednarek, M. (2009). Emotion talk and emotional talk: Cognitive and discursive perspectives. In: Pragmatics and Cognition 17(1), 146–176.

Brennan, Jr., William J. (1988). Reason, Passion, and the Progress of the Law, In: Cardozo Law Review  10(1-2), 3-24.

Conrad, S. & Biber, D. (2000). Adverbial marking of stance in speech and writing. In: G. Thompson & S. Hunston. (Eds.). Evaluation in text: Authorial stance and the construction of discourse (pp. 56–73). Oxford UP.

Englebretson, R. (ed.). (2007). Stancetaking in Discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction. John Benjamins.

Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. and Hunston, S. (2016). “Corpora and beyond – investigating evaluation in discourse: introduction to the special issue on corpus approaches to evaluation.” In: Corpora. 11(2), 131-141.

Gross, M. (1993). Local Grammars and their Representation by Finite Automata. In: Hoey (ed.), M. Data, Description, Discourse: Papers on the English Language in Honour of John McH Sinclair. HarperCollins Publishers. pp 26-38

Hafner, Ch. (2014). Stance in a professional legal genre: The barrister’s opinion. In: R. Breeze, M. Gotti & S. Guinda Carmen (eds.), Interpersonality in Legal Genres, 137–160. Peter Lang.

Hunston, S. & Francis, G. (2000). Pattern grammar: A corpus-driven approach to the lexical grammar of English. John Benjamins.

Hunston, S. and  Sinclair, J. (2000). A local grammar of evaluation. In: S. Hunston  and G. Thompson (eds.), Evaluation in Text: Authorial stance and the construction of discourse, 74–101, Oxford UP.

Kotowski, A. (2015). Teoretycznoprawna analiza pojęcia uzasadniania. In:  I. Rzucidło-Grochowska, I & M. Grochowski (eds.), Uzasadnienia decyzji stosowania prawa (pp. 43–86). Wolters Kluwer.

Martin, J. & White, P. (2005). The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Palgrave.

Partington, A., Duguid, A. and Ch.Taylor. (2013). Patterns and Meanings in Discourse. Theory and Practice in Corpus-assisted Discourse Studies (CADS). John Benjamins.

Ray, K. L. (2002). Judicial personality: Rhetoric and emotion in Supreme Court opinions. In: Washington & Lee Law. Review 59(1/6), 193–234.

Rzucidło, I. (2020). Uzasadnienie orzeczenia sądowego: Ujęcie teoretyczne a poglądy orzecznictwa. Wolters Kluwer.

Segal, J. and Spaeth, H. (2002). The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model revisited. Cambridge UP.


Annotated bibliography (selected key texts)

• Finegan, E. (2010). Corpus linguistics approaches to ‘legal language’: adverbial expression of attitude and emphasis in Supreme Court opinions. In: Malcolm Coulthard & Alison Johnson (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics. London, New York: Routledge pp. 65–77.

Finegan (2010) examines judicial attitude by focusing on adverbial expressions of attitudinal stance and emphasis (e.g. simply, certainly). There is a long tradition of investigating stance adverbials in English ever since the classic study conducted by Conrad & Biber (2000). The approach here is clearly quantitative and it relies on the frequencies of specific forms (e.g. adverbials) in different datasets to provide descriptive statistics and observations about different registers or genres or even languages. Finegan (2010) can demonstrate the relative frequency of single adverbs in the domain-specific corpus of US Supreme Court opinions as compared with their frequencies in general language corpora.

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Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2024). Language and Legal Judgments Evaluation and Argument in Judicial Discourse. London: Routledge.

Integrating research methods from Linguistics with contemporary Legal Argumentation Theory, this book highlights the complexities of legal justification by focusing on the role of value-laden language in argument construction and use. The combination of linguistic analysis and the pragma-dialectic approach to legal argumentation yields a new way of perceiving and understanding the phenomenon of evaluation, one that offers theoretical and practical gains. Analysing a vast corpus of judicial opinions from the United States Supreme Court and Poland’s Constitutional Court, the book paints a clear picture of complex linguistic choices made by judges to assess and support arguments in the justifications of their decisions. The book will be of interest to scholars in Law, Linguistics and Rhetoric, as well as to judges and practicing lawyers engaged in the art of argumentation. More information about this first, book-length treatment of evaluative language in judicial discourse can be found in section on Projects.

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Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2018). Between Corpus-based and Corpus-driven Approaches to Textual Recurrence. Exploring Semantic Sequences in Judicial Discourse. In: Joanna Kopaczyk & Jukka Tyrkko (eds.), Applications of Pattern-Driven Methods in Corpus Linguistics [Studies in Corpus Linguistics, 82]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 131–158.

The study examines the distribution of a selection of nouns found in the pattern across different discourse functions. It is shown that judicial opinions use a range of status-indicating nouns in the N that pattern (e.g. fact that, belief that) to perform five main functions: evaluation, cause, result, confirmation and existence. Yet, evaluation plays a central role in judicial writing and most status-indicating nouns are used to signal sites of contentions, i.e. challenged propositions are likely to be labelled as arguments, assumptions, notions or suggestions. This is attributed to the presence of the judge’s argumentative voice and the genre-specificity of judicial opinions.

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Izes, A. (2023). Fact versus opinion in us defamation law: A corpus and appraisal analysis of speaker stance toward reputational harm. In: International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 36(3), 1–32.

Izes combines the framework of Appraisal Analysis (Martin & White 2005) with corpus linguistics methods to examine defamatory language and determine how the expression of stance differs between judicially-determined statements of ‘opinion’ and ‘fact’ in defamation cases.

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Mazzi, D. (2010). “This Argument Fails for Two Reasons…”: A Linguistic Analysis of Judicial Evaluation Strategies in US Supreme Court Judgements. In: International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 23(4), 373–385.

Mazzi focuses on the single discourse element of ‘this/these/that/those + the labelling noun’ and provides some corpus evidence to demonstrate that abstract nouns such as attitude, difficulty, process, reason, etc. have both encapsulating and evaluative function when found in this pattern in the US Supreme Court judicial opinions. Interestingly, Mazzi selects this pattern after a qualitative analysis, i.e. when a randomly chosen judicial opinion is manually analyzed for salient expressions of evaluation. Mazzi then uses the data contained in his corpus of US opinions to verify the hypothesis that the pattern is indeed associated with evaluative meanings.

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McKeown, J. (2022). Stancetaking in the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence (1973-present): Epistemic (im)probability and evidential (dis)belief. In: International Journal of Legal Discourse, 7(2), 323–343.

McKeown investigates stance-taking by judicial opinion writers in the US Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence. His study focuses on two kinds of stance evaluations, epistemic (im)probability and evidential (dis)belief. McKeown explores how these are marked in the US Supreme Court opinions with regard to two major jurisprudential issues: viability and state interests. A quantitative approach allows the researcher to make direct comparisons between large sets of data. McKeown’s 2022 study compares the previously mentioned stance evaluations in majority opinions and dissent opinions. He is able to show that dissent writers display greater commitment to the propositions made in their opinions, using significantly more high certainty and high strength (dis)belief markers than majority opinion writers.

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Pérez, M. J. M. (2021). A corpus-based comparative analysis of the evaluative lexicon found in judicial decisions on immigration. In: Stanislaw Goźdź-Roszkowski & Gianluca Pontrandolfo (eds.), Law, Language and the Courtroom. Legal Linguistics and the Discourse of Judges. London: Routledge, pp. 126–143.

Pérez compares two sets of Spanish and British judicial decisions which revolve around the topic of immigration. The lexical networks of some of the terms falling under the category affect, as defined by systemic linguistics were obtained. Using the statistical data associated to their constituents as a point of departure, the scrutiny of these vocabulary items led to the identification of fundamental topics. Such topics illustrate the key concerns and the legal trouble that surround the process of seeking asylum or migrating to a European country in both the Spanish and the British legal systems.

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Pontrandolfo, G. & Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2014). Exploring the Local Grammar of Evaluation: the Case of Adjectival Patterns in American and Italian Judicial Discourse. In: Research in Language, 12(1), 71–92. 

Pontrandolfo & Goźdź-Roszkowski use the notions of grammar patterns (Hunston & Francis 2000 and local grammar (Gross 1993) to study adjectival patterns in judgments handed down by the US Supreme Court and the Italian Corte Suprema di Cassazione. The local of grammar of evaluation was proposed in Hunston and Sinclair (2000) to explicate the link between specific language patterns and evaluation. Rather than describing a language as a whole, corpus grammarians developed the idea that certain areas of language use (understood as performing specific discourse function) can be examined more effectively if treated separately as they seem to show patterning of their own which hardly fits the generalised categories provided by general grammars. The study compares the use of two patterns: v-link + ADJ + that and v-link + ADJ + to-infinitive with the equivalent patterns in Italian: copula + ADJ + che and copula + ADJ + verbo all’infinito. These patterns are used as a diagnostic for retrieving instances of evaluative language manifested through the use of adjectives. The advantage of using such patterns is that they represent a viable unit of analyzing evaluation not only in monolingual corpora but also across different languages.

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Strębska-Liszewska, K. (2017). Epistemic modality in the rulings of the American Supreme Court and the Polish Supreme Court: A corpus-based analysis of judicial discourse (unpublished doctoral dissertation). Katowice: Uniwersytet Śląski.

Strębska-Liszewska in her research of modality in the opinions of the US and Polish Supreme Courts relies on the Systemic Functional Linguistics and the Hallidayan classification of high, median and low-value markers of epistemic modality. A range of pre-defined epistemic markers are subsequently interrogated and analyzed using substantial corpus data since the author is primarily interested in the distribution of the epistemic markers across different sections of the investigated material.

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Szczyrbak, M. (2016). Say and stancetaking in courtroom talk: a corpus-based study. In: Stanisław Goźdź-Roszkowski & Susan Hunston (eds.), Corpora, 17(1), 143–168.

Szczyrbak focuses on phrases with ‘say’ as indicative of the alignment function of stance-taking. The paper identifies the frequency of each phrase in the corpus of libel proceedings before a UK court. It locates each phrase in an extended co-text, identifying a series of distinct pragmatic functions routinely performed by the phrases. The author refers explicitly to her approach as ‘corpus-assisted’ and she nicely illustrates the interaction of a corpus approach that prioritizes rapid searching for specific forms and quantitative comparisons between corpora, and a discourse approach that examines and interprets the discourse surrounding the target item to identify its function. Those functions cannot be effectively extracted from frequency lists or even from limited concordance lines.


Key readings in linguistic approaches to evaluation

Thompson, G. & Hunston, S. (2000). Evaluation. An Introduction. In: Susan Hunston & Geoff Thompson (eds.), Evaluation in text. Authorial stance and the construction of discourse. Oxford: Oxford UP, pp. 1–27.

Hunston, S. (2011). Corpus approaches to evaluation. Phraseology and evaluative language. New York: Routledge.

Thompson, G. & Alba-Juez, L. (eds.) (2014). Evaluation in context. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Key readings in legal argumentation theory

Dahlman, Ch. & Feteris, E. (eds.) (2013). Legal argumentation theory: Cross-disciplinary perspectives. Dordrecht: Springer.

Feteris, E. T. (2017). Fundamentals of legal argumentation. A survey of theories on the justification of judicial decisions. Dordrecht: Springer.

Van Eemeren, F. H. (2010). Strategic maneuvering in argumentative discourse: Extending the Pragma-Dialectical Theory of argumentation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.



Evaluation and Negotiating Stances in US Supreme Court Opinions and Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. A Comparative Perspective

Project financed by National Science Centre (Narodowe Centrum Nauki) in Poland. Project (OPUS) no. UMO-2018/31/B/HS2/03093 and carried out between 2019 and 2023

Principal investigator: Prof. Stanisław Goźdź-Roszkowski

The major goal of the project is to investigate how the elusive and context-sensitive phenomenon of evaluation is construed linguistically in the highly specialised discourse type of legal justification and how linguistic forms are related to the semantic property of evaluation. It aims to identify, analyze and compare how judges use linguistic resources to make assessments in two different legal languages, systems and cultures. Apart from identifying linguistic forms, the project examines the linguistic expression as intersubjective collaborative effort, involving the mutual positioning of subjects and the evaluation of objects. The project seeks to determine whether evaluative meanings are construed in patterned and systematic ways characteristic of the judicial professional community.

Methods and Theoretical Frameworks

Some of the analyses are corpus-based using Sketch Engine as a tool to explore two sets of data relying on a corpus of US Supreme Court opinions, 1,270,049 words in 108 documents, and a corpus of opinions from Poland’s Trybunał Konstytucyjny, the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland (102 documents totalling 1,234,162 words). These analyses, and their results draw their theoretical framework from Pattern Grammar and large-scale corpus linguistics research. They focus on pre-defined patterns such as adjective-centred patterns, formulated as it v-link ADJ that and it v-link ADJ to-inf and its Polish counterparts (e.g. ADV v-link, aby, ADV v-link or ADV’ and the N that pattern, mirrored by its Polish counterpart N że/iż.

The other analyses are corpus-assisted which means that corpus data are not the only source of input. Rather, quantitative results are used as a starting point for carrying out detailed case studies and close-readings, the aim being to become as conversant as possible with the discourse type at hand. In addition, the macro-context of the institutional environment in which the argumentative discourse of legal justification occurs is taken into account.

The focus shifts from evaluative language understood in terms of lexico-grammatical patterning to evaluative language expressed as lexemes. This change of unit of analysis entails a change in functional perspective. While the former is used to assess argumentation and signal judicial stances, the latter is operationalized as value-based lexis constitutive of argumentation. The lexis is value-based because it denotes values and principles – for example, dignity, equality, fairness – which are used as argumentative premises (legal topoi).

The major difference between these uses of evaluative language is brought to life by analysing two cases based on value judgement, concerning a conflict between the right to life and the right to liberty and bodily integrity.

Finally, the use and role of evaluative language is described more systematically by adopting the Pragma-Dialectical Approach to legal justification (Feteris 2017). In the Pragma-Dialectical Approach, the argumentation of the litigants and the judge are reconstructed as a contribution to a critical discussion – an exchange of arguments and counter-arguments.   Legal justification takes the form of a regulated critical discussion, one constrained by rules of procedural and substantive law regarding the procedural and material starting-points appropriate and specific to a particular legal system or even a given court of law. The constraints on how justifications are written affect both argumentation and evaluative language. In the analysis of justifications, the four-stage Ideal Model of Critical Discussion (IM) is applied as a heuristic tool. The IM is used to identify relevant points in an argumentative discussion at which argumentation and standpoints are staged and which contribute to the resolution of a difference of opinion.

Key findings:

Evaluation in legal justification can indeed be seen as manifested in patterned verbal behaviour, but judicial writers in particular rely on a restricted range of language patterns to signal their assessments. Many of the patterns identified as evaluative and belonging to the local grammar of evaluation in other discourses (Hunston & Sinclair 2000) are simply not found in the corpora of judicial opinions with any salient frequency;

While there are certain common, preferred forms for encoding attitudinal meanings, there is always room for idiosyncratic, creative, and necessarily low-frequency forms of verbal expression;

Even though the adjectival and noun-centred grammar patterns are also found in other formal registers of writing (especially in academic writing), in some respects their use is unique to judicial prose. The high frequency of these patterns in judicial prose reveals something of the rhetorical dimension of legal justification. What makes their use in judicial discourse distinctive is best understood in terms of a distinction between the language of ‘justification’ and the language of ‘persuasion’. The use of the patterns can be described as oscillating between justificatory and persuasive concerns, specifically in the presence of four major adjectival patterns (DIFFICULTY, DESIRABILITY, IMPORTANCE and VALIDITY) that together reveal the underlying paradigm of legal justification

Considering language patterns in Polish and the US opinions provides evidence that legal justification is underpinned by the same rhetorical assumptions across, at least if not beyond, these two cultures and languages. For example, from the perspective of Politeness Theory, the phraseologies of DIFFICULTY are generally preferred because they enable the judges to signal non-acceptance of argumentation in a less face-threatening manner;

The regularities of occurrence are not confined to the patterns themselves but that they also cover the co-occurrence between the patterns and argumentative propositions. For this reason, the adjectival patterns represent ‘argumentation pointers’. Their occurrence signals that a particular argumentative move might be in progress, or is just about to appear.

The analysis of the noun-centred (N that) pattern reveals its crucial role in evaluating the epistemic status of argumentative propositions. Evaluation operates at two levels, providing the judicial writer with ample opportunity to make rhetorical choices. First, selecting a particular noun depends on how the judge interprets the object of evaluation and on how committed or not s/he feels towards it. Second, once propositions have been reified into the objects of which legal argumentation is comprised (e.g. arguments, conclusions, assumptions, and so on), the judge can evaluate them in positive or negative terms that point the way towards its acceptance or rejection.

The N that pattern represents a ‘site of contention’. The N that pattern represents a part of a legal justification where a formulation of, or a reference to, an argument is likely to be encountered, in the form of its assessment.

Although corpus-based methods might allow comparative quantitative analysis of evaluative meanings in English and Polish, the lack of one-to-one formal correspondence in the patterns across languages made it unfeasible to interpret the results in such terms.

The basic unit of analysis in comparative, cross-language studies of evaluation therefore needs to go beyond discrete language items or patterns. Analyses of evaluative language can centre around argumentative propositions targeting specific issues occurring in sufficiently similar cases, to ascertain how judges handle such arguments linguistically.

In cases concerning the responsibility for refusing to provide certain business services issues likely to occur as points of contention include: evaluating the nature of service, religious beliefs, solution to conflict principles, and so on.

A crucial distinction is proposed between evaluative language used to discourse about arguments, by assessing argumentative propositions and indicating judicial stances, and evaluative language operationalized as value-based lexis constitutive of arguments. Value-based lexis provides linguistic clues to the reconstruction of argument and this approach works in very different linguistic and legal contexts of constitutional argumentation to resolve morally complex cases.

If linguistic descriptions are combined with the Pragma-Dialectical Approach to legal justification, it turns out that evaluative language contributes to realizing particular argumentative moves occurring at different stages of justification.

Justification itself is viewed as a critical discussion, unfolding in stages that can be described using the Ideal Model of Critical Discussion (IM). The IM is especially helpful in showing how evaluative language is used outside the strictly argumentative space of the justification proper. For example, according to the IM, the confrontation stage in the Constitutional Tribunal justification uses stance-oriented language to reconstruct legal standpoints in a non-evaluative way and to mark the area of (dis)agreement between the parties and the Court.

Finally, the use of evaluative language can also so be interpreted in light of Van Eemeren’s concept of ‘strategic manoeuvring’,e. the overall strategy adopted by judges to ensure that their argumentation is rhetorically effective and is accepted as sound. The concept of ‘strategic manoeuvring’ thus helps account for the differences in how courts can manoeuvre strategically in their choice of arguments and presentational techniques (including evaluative language) to convince a given legal audience of the acceptability of their decision.


Publications based on the project:

1. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2024). Language and Legal Judgments. Evaluation and Argument in Judicial Discourse. Routledge

2. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (forth. in 2024). Frequent phraseology as pointers to evaluation in judicial opinions. A corpus-driven comparative perspective. In: Research in Language.

3. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2023). Argumentation, rhetoric and legal justification. The case of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling on abortion. In: Jan Engberg (ed.), Between Text, Meaning and Legal Languages: Linguistic Approaches to Legal Interpretation. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 29–46.

4. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2023). Strategies of Justification in Resolving Conflicts of Values and Interests. A Comparative Analysis of Constitutional Argumentation in Cases of Animal Sacrifice. In: HERMES – Journal of Language and Communication in Business, 63, 5–17.

5. Goźdź-Roszkowski S. (2022). Evaluative language and strategic manoeuvring in the Justification of Judicial Decisions. The case of Teleological-Evaluative Argumentation. In: Stanisław Goźdź-Roszkowski & Gianluca Pontrandolfo (), Law, Language and the Courtroom. Legal Linguistics and the Discourse of Judges. London: Routledge, pp. 98–111.

6. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2022). Evaluative language in legal professional practice. The case of justification of judicial decisions. In: B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Marcin Trojszczak (eds.), Language Use, Education and Professional Contexts. Cham: Springer, pp. 3–20.

7. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2021). Hostility to religion or protection against discrimination? Evaluation and argument in a case of conflicting principles. In: Janet Giltrow, Frances Olsen & Donato Mancini (eds.), Legal Meanings. The Making and Use of Meaning in Legal Reasoning. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 57–76.

8. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2020). Communicating Dissent in Judicial Opinions: A Comparative, Genre-Based Analysis. In: International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 33, 381–401.

9. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2020). Move Analysis of Legal Justifications in Constitutional Tribunal Judgments in Poland: What They Share and What They Do Not. In: International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 33(2), 581–600.

10. Goźdź-Roszkowski, S. (2020). Wymiar gatunkowy zdania odrębnego i jego uzasadnienia na przykładzie orzeczeń Trybunału Konstytucyjnego w Polsce. Zarys problematyki. In: Anetta Buras-Marciniak & Goźdź-Roszkowski, Stanisław (eds.), Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego. Języki specjalistyczne w komunikacji interkulturowej. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, pp. 21–31, [open access]