Spotlight Archive

Below is an archive of the Hub's Spotlight on Language, Culture and Justice series. Most of these are original commentaries by Hub members as well as other scholars and practitioners working in relevant fields.


This commentary explains the central role played by metaphor in the law and why practitioners learning legal English should be aware of how metaphor functions.
This Spotlight introduces the final report of a Hub research project focused on the linguistic experiences of international students at Brandeis University.
This Spotlight provides a brief overview of the recently concluded Global Language Advocacy Day 2023 (#GLAD23), organized by the Global Coalition for Language Rights. This year’s GLAD theme was Language Rights Save Lives

This commentary discusses recent negative media coverage of Irish language policy, and examines some of the harmful myths circulating around Irish language in schools.


This Spotlight explores how the privileging of English and English speakers has left a pronounced mark on the field of international law and justice.
This Spotlight aims to present how the language learning experiences of Chinese students before they come to the West can change their behaviors when they settle in the West. 
The co-chairs of the Global Coalition for Language Rights introduce readers to an exciting and much needed initiative.
A recently published, open-access article describes the challenges that asylum applicants and attorneys encounter regarding interpretation in a U.S. Asylum Office. 
Every text makes its mark on the world. Some marks are like a small ripple on a pond, while others, like the texts of international war law, are like powerful waves, as they set the legal framework for the use of lethal violence by nation states. 
The impact of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI ) on human society will be serious to catastrophic, depending on the kind of contact.
Becker theorizes about the intersection between language and asylum, arguing that the United States asylum system is compromised by what she calls “linguistic refoulement.”
Multilingualism is ubiquitous inside the institutions of the European Union (EU), but it has not received much attention from political scientists to date, even though language provides the basis for all interaction, collaboration, contestation, deliberation, persuasion, negotiation, and transaction between political actors.
One of the commonplaces in the legal profession and the criminal justice system is that language matters. Language is what allows us to craft persuasive arguments and coherent narratives, in service of justice and accountability. But language can also be an axis around which injustice revolves, in part because it is something we think of as neutral and changeable. 

Although the issue of plain language in the legal field has attracted great interest recently (Castellón, 2009; Songa, 2013; Carretero, 2015; Blank and Osofsky, 2017; Alsina, 2018; among many others), knowledge about its development is dispersed (Schriver, 2017).


This month’s Spotlight features a recently published commentary from Language on the Move (LOTM), a peer-reviewed sociolinguistics research site devoted to multilingualism, language learning, and intercultural communication in the contexts of globalization and migration.

The COVID-19 era has shone a spotlight on the challenges experienced by many multilingual societies in effectively communicating critical health information, particularly to members of vulnerable and minority populations.

Aboriginal Interpreting Western Australia (AIWA) recently worked with the Western Australia Police Force to develop an app which could signal a new direction in communication with Aboriginal people who are arrested. The app, which police have on their phones, delivers information about rights in custody in WA Aboriginal languages and in ‘plain English'.

What does it mean, practically and subjectively, to work as an interpreter “in the field”? How does interpretation in the field differ as a space of interpretation from interpretation “in the booth” that takes place in the halls of the UN General Assembly? Both forms of interpretation are bound up with questions of justice, global governance, and international law, but practical features of the work differ dramatically.

Language Rights in a Changing China is the culmination of eight years of research, including fieldwork in four provinces across the People’s Republic of China. The book examines the constitutional minority language rights that China has had since the mid 20th century, and what they mean, both legally and socially, today.

The life history interview, a type of oral history that covers the events of an individual’s life experiences, is a useful methodological tool for social scientists and historians.

The large-scale Black Lives Matter protests in the middle of 2020 made it impossible to look away from structural biases and inequalities around the world.

Language influences our lives in many ways. For some this influence may be subtle, but in a courtroom the ability to understand and be understood becomes the determining factor in one’s future.

The standard narrative about the history of international war law is that it has had a civilizing effect on the violent impulses of nation states. But this “standard Western-European-centric view” is so contested that some suggest international war law verges on being a protection racket.

International courts and tribunals hold the power to decide on questions involving sovereignty over territory, grave human rights violations, international crimes, or millions of euros' worth of economic interests. Judges and arbitrators are the "faces" and arguably the drivers of international adjudication — yet certain groups tend to be overrepresented on international benches, while others remain underrepresented.


Thanks to the 120 persons who recently participated in "Rights, Rules and Rhetoric: Exploring Language for and about Migrants in Australia, Europe and North America." This was the first public program sponsored by Brandeis University's Language, Culture and Justice Hub, with conveners hailing from the three continents.

We are pleased to present our new edited volume Intersections of Law and Culture at the International Criminal Court, published in October by Edward Elgar Press. This book takes as a premise that notions of culture affect the legal foundations, daily functioning, and perceived legitimacy of the International Criminal Court.

The Language, Culture and Justice Hub invites you to participate in an asynchronous and written online "learning exchange" exploring diverse language challenges facing migrants as they navigate legal and other critical contexts, work in academic and professional settings, and respond to rhetoric that (mis)(re)presents them.

Located in Montreal, one of the world's most bilingual cities, McGill University not only has a long tradition of building bridges between Canada's two official languages of English and French, but its law programs also proudly embrace the coexistence of the two legal systems — common and civil law — practised within the country.

The research project VIOSIMTRAD is carried out by researchers of the Research Group TRADIC (Translation, Ideology, Culture) at the University of Salamanca, Spain, along with collaborators affiliated with other institutions. The project goes beyond the assumption that language functions as a powerful tool used in the construction of reality and identities, asserting that it also reflects — and very often perpetuates — power relations between diverse social groups and varied identities which, though unequal and inequitable, are generally perceived as natural.

The world of international criminal justice was recently rocked by the arrest of longtime fugitive-from-justice Félicien Kabuga, charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kabuga was a prominent Rwandan businessman whose financial contributions bankrolled the genocide.

The conference brought together a broad range of researchers from across the globe, interested in a variety of language-related issues in diverse legal contexts. However, despite this diversity, a clear issue emerged amongst the many presentations: the importance of tackling problematic beliefs about language in a format that is accessible and perceived as legitimate by those working in legal settings.

A "moral and collective reparation" project associated with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia — also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal — offers an example of the potency of expressive culture in truth-telling. It also demonstrates how innovation within time-honored tradition might nurture empathy for survivors of mass violence and contribute to the expansion and preservation of the historical record, while also encouraging discussion and strategizing about ways to address contemporary (in this case, gender-based) violence.

I am a part of an international group of NGO leaders, activists, scholars, artists and former heads of minority rights divisions of major multilateral institutions. We represent different cultures and countries across the world, mostly from Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Our goal is to articulate the necessary language to capture the nature of enduring sociocultural systems of oppression, marginalization and exclusion, and to conceptualize the human rights platforms that can end the practices informing those systems.

Recognising migrants as political actors is one important way to work against the representation of migrants as voiceless victims. Whereas institutional asylum frameworks create a circumscribed space for migrants' voices, in which "asylum seekers are charged with narrating themselves in a condition of sanctuary" (Farrier 2012: 1), migrants have entered and created various other platforms to share their stories and demands.


A recent talk by University of Toronto scholar Vijay Ramjattan delves into the field of raciolinguistics, which examines how language is used to construct race and how ideas of race influence language and language use, especially in relation to racialized subjects. 

What kinds of misunderstandings emerge in the context of criminal trials dealing with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide? What are the impacts of different linguistic and cultural practices on both the proceedings and the ways in which these proceedings are understood?

The Trump administration recently decided that providing in-court interpretation during initial-phase immigration proceedings represents an unnecessary expense in an already bogged-down system.