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Pragmatics and Legal Texts: How Best to Account for the Gaps between Literal Meaning and Communicative Meaning

The Pragmatic Turn in Law: Inference and Interpretation in Legal Discourse (de Gruyter Mouton, Mouton Series of Pragmatics, 2017)

31 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2016  

Brian G. Slocum

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law

Date Written: November 21, 2016

Abstract

It is often assumed or asserted by courts and scholars that the literal meaning of a legal text is co-terminous with its communicative meaning, but such an understanding is mistaken. There is often a gap between the two. Accounting for that gap, though, raises difficult issues. The linguistic phenomena responsible for the gap between literal and communicative meaning can be identified as involving pragmatic processes (Recanati 2004). In evaluating these pragmatic processes, theories that offer accounts of specific linguistic phenomena offer conceptual advantages compared to more reductive theories that seek to identify deep underlying principles of communication applicable across various linguistic phenomena. In all cases, for a linguistic theory to be useful it must, as a general matter, be explanatory and persuasive and, importantly, offer some insight into the interpretation of legal texts. This paper argues that the legal meaning of a legal text is generally constrained by its communicative meaning, demonstrates the gap between literal meaning and communicative meaning, and finally argues in favor of theories that explain pragmatic processes in terms of specific systematic effects in language.

Keywords: Linguistics, Philosophy of Language, Legal Interpretation, Semantics, Pragmatics, Interdisciplinary, Statutory Interpretation, Grice

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19, K29, K30, K39, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Slocum, Brian G., Pragmatics and Legal Texts: How Best to Account for the Gaps between Literal Meaning and Communicative Meaning (November 21, 2016). The Pragmatic Turn in Law: Inference and Interpretation in Legal Discourse (de Gruyter Mouton, Mouton Series of Pragmatics, 2017) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2873883

Brian Slocum (Contact Author)

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law ( email )

3200 Fifth Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95817
United States
(916) 739-7013 (Phone)

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