Speaking of Language and Law: Conversations on the Work of Peter Tiersma

Speaking of Language and Law: Conversations on the Work of Peter Tiersma

Speaking of Language and Law: Conversations on the Work of Peter Tiersma

Speaking of Language and Law: Conversations on the Work of Peter Tiersma


Among the most prominent scholars of language and law is Peter Tiersma, a law professor at Loyola Law School with a doctorate in linguistics (co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law). Tiersma's significant body of work traverses a variety of legal and linguistic fields. This book offers a selection of twelve of Tiersma's most influential publications, divided into five thematic areas that are critical to both law and linguistics: Language and Law as a Field of Inquiry, Legal Language and its History, Language and Civil Liability, Language and Criminal Justice, and Jury Instructions. Each paper is accompanied by a brief commentary from a leading scholar in the field, offering a substantive conversation about the ramifications of Tiersma's work and the disagreements that have often surrounded it.


Ceci n’est pas un Festschrift. Instead, to celebrate Peter Tiersma’s distinguished career and many significant contributions to the study of law through language and the study of language through law, we have republished excerpts from some of his most important writings, and invited 32 scholars (including ourselves, we must concede) to write short essays that spring from Tiersma’s work, and at the same time convey each author’s views concerning some important aspect of the study of language and law. The result, we hope, is a book full of interesting pieces, each engaging in its own right, which together form a tribute to one of the great contributors to the study of language and law.

Indeed, it takes 32 scholars to provide meaningful commentary on Peter’s work. One can never predict in advance that a particular individual will so shine, but once it happens, we can all learn much from looking back. We start with language. Peter was born in Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands in 1952. His first language was Frisian, his second Dutch. His family were dairy farmers, some of whom are still in California, where they moved when he was a child, after a brief stop in Wisconsin. Peter went to public school among many other immigrants, mostly Latinos, making English his third and Spanish his fourth languages. In college (Stanford), German became his fifth, with Latin a hobby.

Not surprisingly, Peter had become engaged not only in languages, but also language as a phenomenon, and earned a PhD in linguistics from the University of California at San Diego, where he focused on phonology and phonetics. He taught linguistics for a while, but soon decided that he would go into law, and enrolled in Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a law degree. He then clerked for Stanley Mosk, a prominent justice on the Supreme Court of California, practiced law for a few years, and in 1990 accepted a position at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, where he spent his entire academic life as a law professor, including many years with an endowed chair. He lived throughout these years with his wife Thea near Santa Barbara, from which he traveled weekly to Los Angeles to teach and engage in the life of his law school, until his premature death from cancer in April 2014.

As Peter began his teaching career, his scholarly research on language in legal settings was developing in earnest. Lawyers had contributed writings . . .

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