The Use of Legal Terminology in Sovereign Citizen Pseudolegal Texts – David Griffin

For an enlarged version, click on the poster or download the file:

Abstracts page

Bios page

Questions for feedback

  1. This key item analysis is being followed up with a part of speech analysis and a qualitative examination of several texts selected from each corpus. Is there another way you would approach this sort of data?
  2. A number of key items for both corpora (e.g. “securitization”) refer to complex legal concepts the meanings of which are not necessarily obvious from just a concordance line. How much context is needed when presenting these terms to an audience that may not have a legal background?


  • Ellie Bristow

    Hi David, your poster is really interesting! In response to your second question – as someone who has no legal background (and a very basic understanding of legal terminology), I think I would need a fair bit of context to truly understand the significance of the comparisons drawn between the two corpora. (That may just be me though!).

  • Debbie C

    Hi, David! Thank for your poster! This is really interesting!
    Regarding your second question, I would say that when people are going to watch a presentation, they already have an idea about what is to come, so, even if they don’t have legal background, they expect to see legal references/concepts. In this sense, I wouldn’t worry about changing it for specialised or lay audience. If they need further explanation, the question will arise in the Q&A.
    I also have a (probably very silly) question. What do you mean when you say “positive” key items? I have just began working with CL, so this mighht be a term I am not familiarised, but when I read it, I thought it meant in the evaluative sense. If it is evaluative, could you tell me how you classified them?
    Once, again, thank you!

  • Emily Powell

    Hi David, Really interesting for me as I’m doing similar analysis.
    Key word analysis focuses on difference, so I would suggest looking at the similarities between the documents in more detail (although you do mention some similar themes in the key word list). I’ve found consistency analysis on Wordsmith Tools really useful, but there are also other ways of doing this. Would clusters be worth exploring too?

  • Kate Barber

    Hi David
    It really looks like you’re finding some really interesting results here. I think, in relation to your second question, that it would make a future presentation more meaningful to the audience if they had a little bit of context on the legal definitions of the key items (although I get that it’s difficult to do that in a quick summary with some term). I also agree with Emily that it would be really interesting to look at similarity.

  • Kate Kavanagh

    Hi David, thanks for the poster! Interesting finding as it initially seems counter-intuitive! Within this context I didn’t feel like I needed any more info on the key terms listed (your Q2). I can imagine the POS analysis throwing up some useful findings too, and agree that it would be good to know what the document types have in common as well as their differences. What will you be looking for in your qualitative analysis? Cheers!

  • Gerard O'Grady

    Hi David,

    It’s an interesting topic though I must admit that I struggle to get my head around the logic of the sovereign citizens movement. They are a bit like flat earthers. An alternate suggestion, though not necessarily a better one, would be to take the most salient terms and analyse qualitatively across a large representative subset of your 250 texts. How many texts and how many features you’d want to look at would be a tricky thing to decide. You will need to ensure that the reader has sufficient context to understand the functions of the terms. This need for contextualisation will play a part in how you undertake your qualitative analysis and determine some of the logistics of your work.



  • David Griffin

    Thanks for all your comments! There’s a lot more to be said about this data, and I totally agree that talking more about the ways in which the corpora are similar here would’ve given some helpful context.

    I’m defintiely interested in all of your thoughts on my second question. It’s hard to strike the right balance between giving enough context and getting unecesssarily technical with, for example, the specifics of mortgage foreclosure law, which comes up in a lot of my data.

    To respond to people’s specific questions:

    Debbie- a positive key item is one which is statistically more likely to appear in the target corpus than in reference corpus, and a negative key item is one which is statistically less likely to occur. Because key items were determiend by comparing the corpora to one another, the positive key items for one corpus are the negative key items for the other. If you’re starting to think about key item analysis for your own work, this article is a good place to start, and I’d be happy to recommend some others if you reach out:

    Culpeper, J. 2009. Keyness: Words, parts-of-speech and semantic categories in the character-talk of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 14(1), pp. 29–59. doi: 10.1075/ijcl.14.1.03cul.

    Emily- I was just looking at how to best work in a cluster analysis the other day! I’ll contact you separately about this.

    Kate K- As an extension of the key item analysis, I’m planning to use ProtAnt to select a few texts from each corpus which are particularly representative of the whole. I’m interested in how Sovereign Citizen documents work as whole texts, as well as how they integrate their multimodal features (something which this poster admittedly hasn’t touched on at all).

  • David Griffin

    Gerard- You must have posted this as I was typing my last comment! I’ve actually described Sovereign Citizens as the legal equivalent of flat earthers before, so I’m glad to see I’m not the only one that comparison has occurred to. Thank for your suggestions; I’ve definitely got some things to think about going forward.

  • Amanda Potts

    It’s really interesting to see this work evolve! As for your questions:
    1. You may want to experiment with ProtAnt (Laurence Anthony’s tool to identity ‘prototypical’ texts from a corpus) to select specific items for closer review. It has mixed results but can be a good way of objectively stating why one text is being discussed in greater detail.
    2. You can always briefly define such terms at the start of a chapter or in an index. I also tend to use longer concordance lines (e.g. full sentences) in my work, so readers have the full context.
    Good luck with the rest of the work!

  • Aurora Goodwin

    Hi David,

    I really enjoyed looking through your poster! My major point of feedback is that I was looking forward to seeing something to do with magic and was counting on you for this!
    My other point is that as someone who isn’t from a legal background, I think definitions of individual legal terms might only be necessary for you to mention if you were to go into detail about individual terms and why/how they appear. At the moment, I think even though I didn’t necessarily recognise all of the terms in the poster, your explanation of what the tables showed meant the specific definitions weren’t as important, because it was a bit more like an overview. I hope this makes some kind of sense (sorry if it doesn’t).

    Good luck with everything!

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