Ideablawg's Weekly Connections: From Pronouncing to Pronouncements

This week I looked at the dual nature of the word “pronounce.” Although in both meanings to “pronounce” is a speech word, the effects of the meanings are very different.

1. Pronounce: In this meaning – to make a sound of a word or letter with your voice – is something we do everyday. Even in this digital age, the speech act is integral part of being human. However, how we pronounce our words has developed over time and the dialect or way in which we pronounce a word has changed radically in the English language. For example, every teen is required to read Shakespeare, typically Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet, but inevitably with present-day pronunciation. True we recognize the words and the grammatical structure differs from ours but few of us consider that pronunciation in the 1500s was quite different. Thanks to the linguist, David Crystal, Pronouncing Shakespeare, is possible. Listen here for the correct pronunciation (i.e. as Shakespeare would have pronounced them) in Romeo and Juliet. To follow along, the text is here. Just to connect Shakespeare to law, I remind everyone of the famous passage in Act 4, Scene 2 of Henry the IV, wherein Dick states "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," which presages the disintegration of society and the beginning of anarchy.

2. Pronounce: Another aspect of pronouncing a word is to speak the word properly. In law, Latin words and phrases are common. Indeed, two such phrases come immediately to mind when I teach criminal law. The first is actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means there is no guilty act without a guilty mind and from where the terms mens rea and actus reus, the essential elements of a crime, come. As an aside mens rea and actus reus are never used in the Criminal Code of Canada. The second Latin maxim is the causation concept of de minimis non curat lex or the law does not concern itself with trifles. Although the Latin language is liberally sprinkled throughout legal textbooks and case law, Latin is not a required course in law schools. But thankfully there are opportunities for self-study. Just buy Wheelock’s Latin and go online for the correct pronunciations. Your law professor will thank you for it.

3. Pronounce: The second meaning of the word is to declare or announce something formally or officially. A Judge, when he or she renders a decision, is making a pronouncement. How the Judge or trier of fact comes to a decision is a matter of much academic speculation and argument. Critical legal theorists spend much of their academic career trying to articulate this seemingly inarticulable process. Is decision making predictable? Is it based on preconceived views of the trier of fact? Is it random or guided by an innate sense of justice? These heady questions are still being deconstructed in legal jurisprudence. As a primer, read Benjamin Cardoza on The Nature of the Judicial Process for an enlightened view on the subject.

4. Hazmat Modine: to end this week’s connections, I decided to move completely away from my theme and leave you with some excellent music and an example of how our world seamlessly mixes all genres to produce new sound – kind of like how our pronunciations have changed over time. Enjoy!