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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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Linguistic Knowledge and Legal Interpretation

Linguistic Knowledge and Legal Interpretation

What Goes Right, What Goes Wrong

Chapter:
(p.66) Chapter Three Linguistic Knowledge and Legal Interpretation
Source:
The Nature of Legal Interpretation
Author(s):

Lawrence M. Solan

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226445168.003.0003

The biggest problems for legal interpretation lie not in the syntax and semantics that linguists work so hard to describe. Rather, the bulk of the problems lie in the fact that our use of language relies heavily on our drawing pragmatic inferences, and that our concepts are looser, and more flexible than rule of law values require. For the most part, we do not experience our encounters with rules and laws as a mine field that we can never walk through safely. This is because our computational system of language works quite well, and our inferential systems are sensitive enough to draw the right conclusions about intended meaning most of the time. Nonetheless, the examples presented here should serve as a caution that when our interpretive systems break down, we must look outside the language of the law for answers. To the extent that the legal system relies too heavily on the texts of authoritative legal documents in the name of fidelity to the words used, it risks undermining the goal of determining the communicative intent of the author.

Keywords:   legal interpretation, language faculty, semantics, pragmatics, statutory interpretation

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