Research Article

Problems of Identifying Lexical and Syntactic Features of Legal Documents by Undergraduate EFL Students


  • Reima Al-Jarf Full Professor of English and Translation Studies, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


Students majoring in translation at the College of Languages and Translation take a stylistics course (3 hours per week) in the 5th semester of the translation program. The course aims to introduce students to the stylistic features of different genres in English such as journalese, advertisements, commercial, scientific, and legal texts. The present study aims to investigate ESL translation students’ ability to comprehend and identify the stylistic features of legal documents, to find out the stylistic features that are easy to identify, and those that are difficult to identify. Sixty EFL junior students enrolled in a Stylistics course took a test which consisted of an English legal (notarial) text and asked them to identify its lexical and syntactic features. Analysis of the subjects’ responses showed that the features that they could identify were: Use of legal verbs (69%); prefixing and suffixing of prepositions (63%;) prepositional/adverbial phrases (57%); long complex sentences (52%); coordination of synonyms (doublets) (52%); statements (22%); no adjectives (10%); few pronouns (8%); use of technical vocabulary and emphatic auxiliaries (7% each); use of passive structures, relative clauses and scarce use of pronoun reference (5% each); use adverbs and putting adverbs in an unusual position (3% each); rare pronoun reference, descriptive adjectives, few adjectives, long words, sentence with unusual order, and long nominal clauses (1.6% each). These percentages reflect the difficulty level of the different lexical and syntactic features of the legal text and features with which the students have comprehension difficulties. The lower the percentage, the more difficult the feature is. Difficulties in processing the notarial text may be attributed to lack of linguistic competence and unfamiliarity with the notarial text structure. Recommendations for instructional techniques that would help enhance the students’ ability to identify and comprehend the lexical and syntactic structures of legal texts are given.

Article information


Journal of Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis

Volume (Issue)

2 (1)





How to Cite

Al-Jarf, R. (2023). Problems of Identifying Lexical and Syntactic Features of Legal Documents by Undergraduate EFL Students . Journal of Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis, 2(1), 16–24.



Legal texts, notarial certificates, lexical features, syntactic features, stylistic features, processing problems, comprehension problems, EFL students, translation students, legal terminology