The Pragmatics of Legal Language
44 Pages Posted: 8 May 2008
Date Written: May 2008
In most standard cases, the content of the law is tantamount to the content that is communicated by the relevant legal authority. It has been long noticed by linguists and philosophers of language, however, that the content of linguistic communication is not always fully determined by the meaning of the words and sentences uttered. Semantics and syntax are essential vehicles for conveying communicative content, but the content conveyed is very often pragmatically enriched by other factors. My purpose in this essay is to explore some of the pragmatic aspects of understanding what the law communicates. I argue that in some respects the pragmatics of legal language is unique, sometimes uniquely problematic. Exploring those problems forms one of the aims of this essay. But I suggest that we can do more than that: by drawing on the distinctions between the various pragmatic aspects of language use, we should be able to offer some generalizations about types of pragmatic enrichment that could be taken to form, or not to form, part of what is actually determined by legal expressions.
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