Would anyone happen to know of a systematic account of the English pronunciation of legal and parliamentary terms and phrases of Anglo-Norman French origin, or more generally, of Law French? When it comes to loans from Latin, even Wikipedia has a very detailed account of their traditional pronunciation and its development, but I've been unable to find anything analogous for terminology originating from Law French.

My question is intimately related to this earlier one on the archaic nature of Legal English, though unless I've missed something, nothing in that thread seemed to really touch on Law French in any detail at all.

EDIT: At the very least, is there anything more to the story than "just" taking these archaic French words and phrases and applying, according to their spelling, an ad hoc mixture of general English pronunciation and the odd bit of modern French pronunciation?

  • all the words in that list of 'Law French' seem to be well established as English with their own English pronunciations given in the usual reference dictionaries. OED will give the best set of varieties of pronunciations.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 20:34
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    But that hardly explains the nature (viz, origin) of those pronunciations. The pronunciation of loans directly from Latin is generally governed by the traditional English pronunciation of Latin—what is the situation with Law French and its vestiges? Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 20:49
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    A few years ago, when I was called for jury duty, I found that--technically--I would be on a "petit jury" as opposed to a "grand jury".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 21:40
  • "what is the situation with Law French" - similar to Latin, governed by traditional pronunciation of French? (and idiosyncrasy)? So then are you asking -what- the pronunciations are or -why- for each individual word?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 22:36
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    In other words, if I see autrefois acquit or La Reyne le veult, are there any general principles that determine their pronunciation (like the whole apparatus of the traditional English pronunciation of Latin that governs how we pronounce, say, Julius Caesar), and if so, what are they? Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


Bryan A. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage has an entertaining article on LAW FRENCH, which concludes with a note on pronunciation:

English and, to a lesser extent, American lawyers have generally preserved the medieval pronunciations given to Law French terms—pronunciations that resemble modern English much more than they do modern French. So the “correct” pronunciation of oyez is /oh-yez/ or /oh-yes/, not /oh-yay/, and of autrefois acquit /oh-tər-foyz/, not /oh-tər-fwah/. *See J.H.Baker, Manual of Law French (2d ed. 1990); J.H.Baker, “Law French,” in 7 Guide to American Law 80-81 (1984).

Heikki E.S. Mattila, Comparative Legal Linguistics, writes

common-law lawyers normally pronounce phrases from law French and Latin in the same way as genuinely English words. For example, when the court begins its sessions the usher cries three times: Oyez! This word of French origin is pronounced: oou-yès, with the accent placed on the second syllable. Satirists have not been slow to comment on this pronunciation: according to one writer, When the Crier cried “Oyez!”, the people cried “O no!” As for Latin, the expression stare decisis, for example, gives a good idea of the pronunciation of English-speaking lawyers. They say (according to Black’s Law Dictionary): stahr-ee or stair-ee di-sI-sis.

[...] Law French comes from the Normandy of the 11th century and was never pronounced in the same way as modern French. [Critics] do not understand young American lawyers, who — according to Peter Tiersma — “are increasingly pronouncing Law Latin in the style of Julius Caesar, and Law French in the style of Brigitte Bardot”.

So Baker and Black would seem to be your best sources.

No doubt Law French and Law Latin had originally whatever pronunciation passed for proper Latin and Norman-French pronunciation in the 12th century, and that has evolved normally through the Great Vowel Shift and other intervening phonological calamities.

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