Law, Meaning and Interpretation

In this course law is used as a means of focusing discussion on a range of issues in the study of language, meaning and interpretation. No prior knowledge of law is assumed.

The course shows how the interpretative issues that arise in law reflect fundamental questions in the way societies, institutions and individuals assign meaning to words, phrases and texts. Theories of language and meaning derived from linguistics and literary theory are applied to problems in legal interpretation, and models of language, meaning and interpretation developed by legal practitioners and legal theorists analysed.

Of particular interest are cases where social controversy, linguistic interpretation and law intersect, such as ‘hate speech’ issues on American university campuses, arguments over the commercialisation of language in trademark law, the control of language on the internet. These cases illustrate the role of law in the politics of language, and the pervasiveness of language politics at all levels of social interaction. Students are introduced to practical and intellectual problems of legal interpretation, and develop their analytical and rhetorical skills through applying general principles and interpretative strategies to difficult or contentious cases.