Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Applied Linguistics

Committee Chair

Philip M. McCarthy

Committee Member

Teresa S. Dalle

Committee Member

Charles E. Hall

Committee Member

Reginald Martin


My dissertation focuses on the language of wills. More specifically, I am interested in how the language of holographic wills (i.e., handwritten wills) differs from the language of professional wills.My research question is "Do linguistic differences between professional wills and holographic wills have the potential to affect the interpretation of the wills, subsequently influencing the outcome of the probate process?" In order to address this question, I conduct a quantitative and qualitative contrastive corpus analysis of holographic and professionally-prepared wills. My hypothesis is that the discourse of holographic wills will tend to be more narrative-like, reflecting personal experiences and emotions. By contrast, the language of professional wills is more formal and rule-driven than the language of holographic wills. By using computational analysis tools such as the Gramulator, my dissertation identifies specific language differencesbetween these two text types that support my hypothesis. These differences are assessed through a variety of statistical methods. Additionally, I perform a qualitative assessment of three case studies on individual wills using discourse analysis approaches to provide insight into why and how the meaning of the text may be determined. Although both types of discourse have their differences, their main goal is the same: to convey the testator's intent. The purpose of my dissertation is to facilitate this goal by demonstrating to the legal community how non-professionals write their wills so that when a controversy over a holographic will arises, the legal community can apply the methods and techniques presented here and determine the testator's intent, since by law, this is what is required.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.