Conversational Implicatures and Legal Texts
Ratio Juris: An International Journal of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law (March, 2016 Forthcoming)
33 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2015
Date Written: November 25, 2015
Legal texts are often given interpretations that deviate from their literal meanings. While legal concerns often motivate these interpretations, others can be traced to linguistic phenomena. This paper argues that systematicities of language usage, captured by certain theories of conversational implicature, can sometimes explain why the meanings given to legal texts by judges differ from the literal meanings of the texts. Paul Grice’s account of conversational implicature is controversial, and scholars have offered a variety of ways to conceptualize implicatures and Grice’s maxims of conversation. Approaches that emphasize the systematic nature of implicatures can provide explanatory accounts of the gap between literal meaning and the meaning communicated in the text. For example, a theory of scalar implicature, a type of generalized conversational implicature, can account for the application of the interpretive principle known as ejusdem generis, which narrows the scope of ‘catch-all’ clauses located at the end of lists of items. Despite the availability of such theories, some scholars have argued that conversational implicatures are not applicable to legislation. The arguments, based primarily on the uniqueness of the legislative context and its non-cooperative nature, though, do not establish the inapplicability of conversational implicatures to legislation.
Keywords: linguistics, language and law, statutory interpretation, legislation, philosophy, philosophy of language
JEL Classification: K10, K19, K20, K30, K40, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation