Friday, June 21, 2019

LANGUAGE (Moot Infinity Stone #3)

What do the brightest of stars in the Moot Court Universe (MCU) share in common? The Moot Infinity Stones, of course. LAW and LOGIC are out. Four more to go...

Let's start with a simple question. No prizes for guessing, just to break the ice and some light stretching for your brain cells

What is a moot submission really made of?

Not a trick question at all. Nothing philosophical. The answer is straight and logical

LAW? Not really, as pointed out right from the start, law is more akin to the icing on the cake, the sparklers on the champagne, the voice-recognition controls to your lampshade (you lazy bugger).

LOGIC? Sort of, but that's more of the skeleton, scaffolding, structure.

Alright, good shot, anyway. Give up?

The answer is...

"Heed my words, mortal!"

* * *


Yes, a submission is made out of words. 

Or to be more precise - many, many words strung together in a sentence, and sentences bundled into paragraphs. You first write down the words on your computer (or paper - whichever floats your boat). You stare at the words, re-write some words, sleep over it, and continue writing and re-writing...

And then, on the competition day itself, you recite the very words you've written down and rehearsed in front of your teammates and coaches for many moons, in your best voice. Words with sound. Words with inflection. Words with passion.

And the judges are listening to your words - and judging you on the weight and way of your words.

But words alone are just, well, stuff found in a dictionary. The weight of words is the 'what', the way of words is the 'how'.

How you have your way with words... That's LANGUAGE - and the third Moot Infinity Stone.

* * *

Rule #1: Language sticks

If you've read until this far, good. It means you're not turned off yet, despite most of the words so far not saying much of anything.

And it's not at all that there are dodgy tactics at play here, such as click-baity titles that go "8 Moot Hacks From Jessup Champion Miss XXX - Number 7 Will Shock You!"

The LANGUAGE here so far is all sizzle, no steak. But don't worry, the steak is coming!

LANGUAGE is for communication, communication is to convey a message. And the best message is the one that sticks in the head of the recipient.

How do you make your words stick?

Well, happily, 'hacks' do exist. In fact, one of the best 'hack' is Strunk and White's classic 'The Elements of Style'. It's less than 30 pages long. Best of all, you can even read the 4th edition for free - CLICK HERE!!!

No trick, no paywall, no malware. The book is in the public domain, because the original was first published... in 1918.

No joke! This is not some archaic Shakespearean tome. It's still relevant till this day, and I frequently incorporate its words of wisdom into my everyday teachings, like this piece 3 years ago.

As a teaser, here's a few bullet points from the article - well, actually, the article is already in bullet form - with my own examples with an MCU twist:

  • Use the active voice, not passive voice ("The defendant breached Clause 3000..." instead of "Clause 3000 was breached by the defendant"
  • Omit needless words ("Nothing was heard from the defendant again" instead of "After that, the defendant did not respond nor continue corresponding with the plaintiff.")
  • Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form ("The defendant terminated the first contract in May, then terminated the second contract in June" instead of "The defendant terminated the first contract in May, then rescinded the second agreement on June")

The third point is especially critical for legal language. Specific legal terms carry specific meanings, and it's dangerous to mix them up. Also, stylistically, repetition of the same key words are STICKIER than blindly blasting out distinct bombastic words (often for the sake of showing off one's vocabulary range).

I could go on all day, but let's not get too much into the technical details. In short, choice of words is critical in mooting. Use sticky LANGUAGE.


* * *

Rule #2: Language sways

Don't state. Don't speak. Don't even submit.

The last word really gets to me. Yes, I know, it's part of courtroom decorum, but 'submit' is sssoooo 1918...

This may be nit-picky, but the objection against using (or at least, over-using) the word 'submit' in the MCU matters in the bigger picture. My reasoning is two-fold.

First, saying 'we submit' is literally and technically nonsensical. Take your written submission - essentially, the whole substantive part that's written down is the submission itself (except for footnotes, table of contents etc.). Take your oral submission - once you get pass introducing your names (and summary for facts, for novices), you're essentially submitting. Every word that's coming of your mouth is your submission. So when you still say "We submit that the defendant...", what does that mean? Every other sentence that you did not preface with "we submit" is not your submission, hence irrelevant and should be disregarded? Of course not. The word 'we submit' is superfluous.

Second, step away from the MCU for a second. Submit is synonymous to 'send'. What else do you submit in real life? A form. An application. An email. After you submit, what happens? Usually nothing - at least, for a few days. What's worse, 'submit' is such a timid, unilateral act. You may likely not even get a response. That's what happens when you 'submit' something. There's no obligation or urgency for the recipient to respond, or even look into what you've submitted.

In the MCU, you should be more assertive. Don't submit to the judges. Instead, sway them to your side.

"We urge this tribunal to consider..."

"We invite Your Excellencies to instead follow the case of..."

"If I may refer Your Lordships to page..."

Mooting is a conversation. It's a two-way street. Draw the judges in. Have a super case on point? Don't just say what it is. Show them how super it is!

Submit? Every word you're saying is already your submission. Your task - and here's where the magic of language comes in - is swaying the judges to not only listen, but to appreciate and accept your submission.

* * *

Rule #3: Language sings

Sings? You read that right. It wasn't a typo. And it isn't some forced poetic device...

Stick... sway... sing...

Well, to say that those aren't very deliberate choices of words would be a lie. It is deliberate, but not a tenuous stretch. It is a set-up, but to drive home an important point.

Last but not least, LANGUAGE is like music.

Just like the words you're reading now. The words roll off the tongue as I say them, and also when you're reading them out aloud. There's a beat, a tempo. There's a verse, then a climatic chorus. Starts off with a hook, flows into a consistent melody. An infectious beat, and even an epic bass drop or two...

And I'm not afraid to sample from other musical influences. Credit where credit is due. The inspiration of language singing comes from this awesome advice of Gary Provost:
"This sentence have five words. Here are five more words. Five word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of cymbals - sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader's ear. Don't just write words. Write music."

The lesson equally applies - if not more - when writing a speech, your submission. Ugh... that horrid word again!

That's right, listen to Messrs Strunk & White and Mr. Provost, even if you still can't take me for serious.

Don't just submit a bunch of words. Sing out words that stick, sing out words that sway.

"Moot is music, baby!"

* * *

And that's the lowdown for LANGUAGE. A nice balance of steak and sizzle.

There's a science to LANGUAGE, but also an art. Some of us are more gifted than others. But gift is never enough. Just like making good music, crafting good words take take a lot of grit.

Even for myself, I'm still learning, still improvising, still trying to hit that perfect pitch one day, that will shatter glass and make the audience rise and go "ENCORE! ENCORE!"

And for you as a mooter, LANGUAGE is a precious stone you can't neglect. One could even argue that LAW = LOGIC + LANGUAGE. And there's a certain LOGIC in the science of LANGUAGE.

Point is, these 3 stones combine well together. Which is why I would classify and file them under the 'hard skills' or 'IQ' folder, as opposed to the other stones which are 'softer' and more EQ-centric by nature.

We've reached the halfway point. Three stones collected, three more to come...

No comments :

Post a Comment