Language, Meaning and the Law

Language, Meaning and the Law

Language, Meaning and the Law

Language, Meaning and the Law

Synopsis

Language, Meaning, and the Law clearly covers debates concerning linguistic meaning and interpretation in relation to legal language. Law is an ideal domain for studying fundamental questions relating to how we assign meanings to words, understand and comment on texts, and deal with socially and ideologically significant questions of interpretation. This book argues that theoretical issues of concern to linguists, philosophers, literary theorists, and others are made vivid by the demands of the legal context, since law is driven by the need for practical solutions and for determinate outcomes based on explicit reasoning. Topics covered include: the relationship between linguistics and legal theory, indeterminacy and statutory interpretation, the theory and practice of using dictionaries in law, defamation and language in the public sphere, and the distinction between perjury and deception.

The book is designed as a self-contained, advanced introduction to a fascinating area of study, and the reader will gain an overall insight into issues and debates about meaning and interpretation as well as an understanding of how the legal context shapes these questions.

Excerpt

This book is concerned with approaches to language, meaning and interpretation that have been discussed within the legal context. Though many of these approaches are frequently formulated in a manner unique to law, they have been shaped by constant dialogue with philosophy, political theory, sociology, literary studies and linguistics. The aim of this book is not to improve how lawyers deal with words and their meanings (which is not to say that no improvement is possible), but to use law to reflect on the nature of language, its role within social life, and the theories with which legal theorists and practising lawyers, linguists and philosophers attempt to make sense of it. The underlying presumption is that in looking from the outside at this complex of problems, opinions and ideologies, we gain insights of wider significance for the study of language in general.

Where there is discussion of linguistics in this work, the reference is to mainstream or so-called ‘core’ linguistics, for which I take the writings of Saussure and Chomsky as representative. Given the diversity of recent developments in linguistics, it is not possible to qualify each generalisation, but the ‘systems theory’ view of language remains a very powerful influence within the discipline, even where the realist assumption is made that no two speakers speak exactly the same language. Specialist topics in forensic linguistics and applied sociolinguistics of law are not covered in this work, except where they relate to the meaning and interpretation of legal language/texts and the role of ‘ordinary language’ in the legal context. Forensic linguistics is concerned with how linguistics can be applied in an evidential or expert witness capacity, or in defence of the language rights of groups who are especially disadvantaged by the language culture of the legal process. It deals with issues such as legal interpreting and translation; the comprehensibility of legal documents, of jury instructions and of police communication with suspects and the general public; issues of age, gender, race within the discourse of the legal system; discourse analysis of the language of judges; plagiarism and the authenticity of documents. Many of these areas are specialisations in their own right, such as forensic phonetics and acoustics in speaker identification. There exist a number of excellent textbooks in this area, and the reader is referred to the further reading section at the end of the book.

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