Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Conceptual Fields within Specialized Vocabularies. towards a Taxonomy of the English Police Equipment

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Conceptual Fields within Specialized Vocabularies. towards a Taxonomy of the English Police Equipment

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper is an attempt to correlate the main social and semantic shifts in the conceptual field of police equipment, as a central area of police terminology. We will find why unlikely terms such as clay, X-rays, pincers and grenades are related to policing, what kind of special technology is called CAD, CCTV, sound spectrograph or taser, and how they aid law enforcement; we shall find how bumper beepers relate to audio technical surveillance and breathalyzers to traffic control. Most words in the conceptual field of police equipment can be identified, and main semantic and lexical changes can be revealed with the help of historical dictionaries. The method employed is categorisation, which enables us to view the conceptual field of equipment as a relatively stable mental representation of the world, but also subjected to change according to different instantiations and acknowledgements throughout time.

Keywords: specialized vocabulary; semantic shifts; categorisation

1. Introduction

As a newly acknowledged language functional variety1 (in the sense of Gotti, 2003; Bidu, 2000; Hutchinson, 1987), Police English - or English for Law Enforcement - is mostly represented at a lexical level. Whilst it is impossible to describe the whole field of police terminology in one study, we can identify the main lexico-semantic fields (such as crimes, equipment, duties) from various resources (historical and conceptual dictionaries), on the basis of their conceptual reference, analysing them against a sociohistorical background (from police sources).

This paper unravels the developments in police equipment in the nineteenth and twentieth century policing in England, and the vocabulary patterns that have emerged and changed as a consequence. Police equipment gathers substantial terminology in the field of Police English. Therefore, obsolete terms that have left the language, newly coined terms mirroring technological developments, and the relevant terms that have witnessed semantic shifts can be singled out, categorised and compared in opposing semantic frames of the last two centuries.

2. A socio-historic background of police equipment

Police equipment is an area that has developed significantly in the twentieth century, due to the advent of technology, from cars and firearms to tasers and DNA testing. The following description of police equipment follows two axes: the first one represents a diachronic view of the nineteenth versus the twentieth century impact of technology on police equipment and ultimately on the terms reflecting it; the second axis describes police equipment in the twentieth century, from duty carry-ons and uniform to transportation and forensic equipment, as an area of policing and thus the language of policing witnessing enormous increments. The information has been retrieved from various sources: police resources (Emsley, 1996, 2005;, and dictionaries (Oxford English Dictionary, WordNet). We shall address these 'witness words' (cf. Matoré, 1953) in the social context that generated them; they will be marked in Italics and their conceptual background will become obvious throughout the description.

2.1. Nineteenth century technology and its impact on British policing and its vocabulary

Modem police methods were beginning to develop in Europe by the 18th century and in the 19th century were reinforced by a great number of technological advances. When the British Parliament enacted the reforms of Robert Peel2 in 1829, the importance of keeping comprehensive police records was recognized as indispensable for the proper distribution of police strength. His reforms laid the foundation for the development of the modem police communications system and provided for a coherent police organization.

Until the mid- 19th century, however, police signal systems consisted of whistles, raps on the pavement with a nightstick or baton, and flashing of lights. …

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