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The Nature of Legal InterpretationWhat Jurists Can Learn about Legal Interpretation from Linguistics and Philosophy$
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Brian G. Slocum

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226445021

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226445168.001.0001

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The Contribution of Linguistics to Legal Interpretation

The Contribution of Linguistics to Legal Interpretation

(p.14) Chapter One The Contribution of Linguistics to Legal Interpretation
The Nature of Legal Interpretation

Brian G. Slocum

University of Chicago Press

The main argument of this chapter is relatively simple. The content of a legal text is not solely an instance of linguistic meaning. Rather, legal concerns sometimes trump the linguistic meaning of the text. Nevertheless, the linguistic meaning of a text is generally an important aspect of the text’s legal meaning, and should be so. Especially because linguistic meaning is an important aspect of legal interpretation, knowledge of the ways in which language operates is important to the proper functioning of the law. Linguists are, by training, experts on language. Judges, in general, are experts on the law, and on principles of legal interpretation, but are not experts on language. It follows that judges can benefit from the expertise of linguists. One benefit is that linguists can demonstrate the contextual nature of language and the flaws of believing that linguistic meaning can accurately be determined without consideration of context. Another important benefit is that knowledge of language can reveal its indeterminacy. By not adhering to valid principles of language usage, judges risk interpreting legal texts in ways that mask the inherently normative nature of interpretation.

Keywords:   law and language, linguistics, statutory interpretation, legal interpretation

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