Chapter published in:Legal Pragmatics
Edited by Dennis Kurzon and Barbara Kryk-Kastovsky
[Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 288] 2018
► pp. 117–130
Interpreting or in legal texts
Reconstructing the meaning of a text is a complex operation, involving linguistic, situational, inter-textual, cognitive, cultural, and ideological parameters. Due to a well-known polarization in contemporary linguistic theory, the interpretation process spans between an abstract “linguistic” meaning and a concrete “communicative” meaning. The former is the result of combining the meanings of the lexical units following the rules of syntax and punctuation, while the latter results from inferential processes, where linguistic meaning is taken as a point of departure and enriched with further information. The distinction between linguistic and communicative meaning maps onto the boundary between semantics and pragmatics, the conventional meaning of linguistic units vs. the meaning inferred through the interaction of linguistic meaning with context (Hansen 2008: 12ff.; Visconti 2014: 247ff.).This chapter focuses on court decisions, a type of text in decisions, the interplay between semantics and pragmatics is particularly striking. It will investigate the way in which the interpreter, i.e. the judge, takes the linguistic meaning as an input (a set of instructions) and enriches it with further information by means of prepositions or connectives, which are often neglected in the legal literature, despite playing a crucial role in steering the interpretation.
Judges often engage in various types of linguistic analysis. The United States Supreme Court, for example, has exhibited both surprising linguistic acumen and, on the other hand, woeful disregard for how language operates in real life situations. Of course, there is not always a single correct linguistic analysis of legislative texts or conspiratorial conversations. Additionally, factors other than language are often relevant in determining the meaning of legal language; these factors are particularly relevant when the text is incomplete or ambiguous. But when interpreting a text, be it statutory or conversational, a careful linguistic analysis should always be the point of departure. (Peter M. Tiersma, “The Judge as Linguist”, Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol. 27: 269, 1993, p. 283)
Published online: 26 April 2018
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Cited by 1 other publications
Lamond, Ian R
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