Can the Law Imply More than it Says? On Some Pragmatic Aspects of Strategic Speech

23 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2009

See all articles by Andrei Marmor

Andrei Marmor

Cornell University - Law School

Date Written: December 3, 2009


The content of the law is often determined by what legal authorities communicate. Both lawyers and philosophers of language know very well, however, that the full content of communication in a natural language often goes beyond the meaning of the words and sentences uttered by the speaker. Semantics and syntax are essential vehicles for conveying communicative content, but the content conveyed on particular occasions of speech is often pragmatically enriched by various factors. The standard model in the pragmatics literature, however, focuses on ordinary conversations, in which the parties are presumed to engage in a cooperative exchange of information. The legal context offers an example of conversation that is strategic in nature. Part of my purpose here is to show that the pragmatics of strategic conversation has certain features that deviate from the standard model.

The first section focuses on two main instances of implied communicative content, namely, implicatures and utterance presuppositions. I argue that in both of these cases, there is an important distinction between implied content that is semantically encoded in the utterance - and therefore forms part of what the law communicatively determines - and implied content that is essentially contextual and thus much more problematic in the legal case. In the second section I focus on the idea of pragmatic commitments and their normative foundations. My main concern here is to explore the normative framework of strategic speech and ways in which it differs from ordinary conversations. Finally, I will try to explain in what sense legal speech is strategic, and demonstrate how the pragmatic aspects of strategic speech actually work in the legal context.

Suggested Citation

Marmor, Andrei, Can the Law Imply More than it Says? On Some Pragmatic Aspects of Strategic Speech (December 3, 2009). USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 09-43, Available at SSRN: or

Andrei Marmor (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States


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