Counterfactual conditionals in argumentative legal language in Dutch

Nele Nivelle

Abstract

Legal argumentation is intended to resolve a difference of opinion between two or more legal parties by determining what are the facts in a case and finding an appropriate legal interpretation for these facts. Some of the discussion moves in legal argumentation take the shape of counterfactual conditionals (CTFs). CTFs are conditionals with an antecedent that is implicated to be false, not corresponding to the facts, and they occur in a number of argumentative contexts and argumentation techniques. This paper gives a structured overview of how such non-fact-based CTFs can contribute to resolving a legal and fact- centered difference of opinion. It does so by presenting a bottom-up corpus-based typology of CTFs in lawyers’ conclusions and in judgments in civil cases heard by Dutch-speaking Belgian courts of law. This typology is based on linguistic and pragmatic factors, such as the status of the facts that are referred to in the antecedent, the nature of the relation between antecedent and consequent, and the relation the CTF bears to the argumentative, situational and legal context.

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