Editor's Note

Editors’ Foreword

The Editors
Conference Proceeding

Introduction: “What is Meaning in a Legal Text?” A First Dialogue for Law and Linguistics

Judith N. Levi
This Article begins by describing the development of interest within linguistics over the last two decades in the language of legal processes, continues by tracing the evolution of the conference from a 1993 collaborative research project carried out by one law professor and three linguists, and concludes with some personal observations of the author on the benefits that linguists like herself stand to gain from further interdisciplinary efforts in this…
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This Is Not a Sentence

Paul F. Campos
What this symposium on the intersection between linguistic and legal theory illustrates well is that the distinction in legal theory between what is assumed to be a text’s inherent formal meaning and its contingent historical meaning essentially replicates the distinction between “sentence meaning” and “utterance meaning” that is crucial to various linguistic theories. The distinction all these theoretical approaches insist on maintaining is that “between the meaning of a sentence…
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A Comment on Text, Time and Audience Understanding in Constitutional Law

Michael C. Dorf
Professor Cunningham, in a provocative memorandum, asks how the legal landscape might change if courts interpreted statutes to reflect average citizens’ understanding of statutory language.’ This is an intriguing thought experiment and perhaps even a wise proposal. Rather than address Professor Cunningham’s experiment directly, however, I would like to consider a variant of it that nicely highlights important issues in my own field, constitutional law. Substituting “the Constitution” for “statutes,”…
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The “Language of Law” and “More Probable Than Not”: Some Brief Thoughts

Kent Greenawalt
By far the most testy moments of the conference arose out of the following problem. The Supreme Court had interpreted “knowingly” in a criminal statute regulating interstate commerce of child pornography to cover the age of participants, even though the placement of “knowingly” in the statutory provision would, according to standard usages of English grammar, lead to its not being applied to that element of the crime.! All participants at…
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Linguistics and Legal Epistemology: Why the Law Pays Less Attention to Linguists Than It Should

Gary S. Lawson
Law and linguistics ought to be natural partners. Modem statutory and constitutional interpretation’ increasingly focuses on the generally accepted public meaning of legal language. Even persons who do not believe (as I do) that some form of public understanding of the relevant text is the endall, if not quite the be-all, of such interpretation are likely to regard the public understanding of statutory language as at least one relevant factor…
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Language and Self-Interest: Preliminary Notes Towards a Public Choice Approach to Legal Language

Jonathan R. Macey
In this Article I will give a few examples of this phenomenon in action. I will begin with a benign example, in which no damage is caused by a failure to understand the true purpose of the speaker’s words. I will then move to some examples in which, it might be argued, real harm is caused by the failure to understand the true purpose of the communication. Finally, I will…
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Desperately Seeking Science

Francis J. Mootz III
In this Article I offer a lawyer’s view of what law and linguistics interdisciplinary studies might mean for legal practice, as well as a legal theorist’s view of what importance they may hold for jurisprudence. I do not pretend to have more than cursory knowledge about linguistics, and so my remarks about what linguistics scholars might gain from an interdisciplinary exchange necessarily will be brief and general.
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On Whose Authority?: Linguists’ Claim of Expertise to Interpret Statutes

Marc R. Poirier
This Article sketches some of the ideas and issues involved in the claims of the Law and Linguistics Consortium and others. It focuses mostly on these linguists’ claim of interpretive authority, but also on the particular theory of language that they offer. The question of their claim to objectivity also surfaces later in this essay. On all counts, a single inquiry sums it up: On whose terms have these linguists…
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Law and Linguistics: Is There Common Ground?

William D. Popkin
What can lawyers learn from linguistics? Here are some thoughts, focused on statutory interpretation.
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Why Linguistics?

Robert K. Rasmussen
The question I pose for those who have devoted considerable effort to the project is why linguistics should have anything to offer those who would interpret legal texts. An answer to the question requires both an understanding of what linguistics is and a theory for why it might illuminate areas of interest for us. Through the materials of the symposium I believe I have acquired a reasonably accurate, if limited,…
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The Limited Relevance of Plain Meaning

Stephen F. Ross
In this Article, I want to take the heretical position that linguists’ principal expertise-ascertaining how language is used by ordinary speakers of English-is often of little value in interpreting controversial non-criminal federal statutes.
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Judicial Decisions and Linguistic Analysis: Is There a Linguist in the Court?

Lawrence M. Solan
First, I will discuss certain limits in the potential relevance of linguistic theory to legal analysis. In particular, even on its own terms, linguistics ordinarily will not be a source of authority about how legal documents should be interpreted. I will then discuss two areas in which I believe that linguistic analysis may be of some use to courts. The first, which will be touched on only briefly, involves the…
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Fancy Theories of Interpretation Aren’t

Larry Alexander
The problems with fancy theories are that they are not theories of interpretation, they are not internally consistent, and they are not held sincerely.
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Faithful Interpretation

Philip P. Frickey
To me, a broader concern seemed to surround this dialogue: that of fidelity to the mission of interpretation. If “interpretation” is defined in a strictly empirical and verifiable sense, what the legal system does with the language of positive law hardly qualifies. The division between “is” and “ought” is, of course, a familiar one in the legal community itself. Every traditional theory of statutory interpretation wants to have it both…
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The Ambiguity of Interpretation: Distinguishing Interpretation from Construction

Peter M. Tiersma
One might expect that linguistics-the scientific study of language- would have much to offer the legal profession, which is so often occupied with the interpretation of legal texts. That possibility was evidently the point of departure for this conference. Those reading the proceedings will, however, be struck by how linguists and legal scholars employ quite different discourses about language, especially when it comes to meaning and interpretation.
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Regulatory Variables and Statutory Interpretation

William N. Eskridge Jr. and Judith N. Levi
In this Article, we shall use the hypothetical as the means to describe the intellectual puzzle that separates the two disciplines, specify and develop our idea of words or phrases as “regulatory variables,” and suggest larger implications of our concept.
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The Failed Promise of Regulatory Variables

Harold J. Krent
The concept of a regulatory variable is misleading. All statutory language is susceptible to numerous interpretations that would be impossible to predict in advance. And myriad changes in financial or social situations may make legislative directives difficult to apply in future generations.
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The Meaning of Meaning in the Law

Michael L. Geis
The Court uses the words mean and meaning in a number of ways. The difficulty with this is that there are two senses of these words that can, and often are confused, and these are what we have been calling “conventional meaning” and “contextual significance.” Locutions containing mean that are particularly problematic, for mean that is sometimes equivalent to ‘entail’ and sometimes to ‘implicate.’ Clearly it is in the interest…
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Vehicles of Meaning: Unconventional Semantics and Unbearable Interpretations

Laurence R. Horn
I try my hand at the noble pursuit of ambulance chasing. The question is whether the city ordinance in “All vehicles are prohibited from Lincoln Park.” will be construed so as to exempt ambulances and, if so, whether they are exempted by virtue of the function of all or vehicle as ‘regulatory variables’ in the interpretation of the ordinance.
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Against a Theory of Meaning

Dennis Patterson
Not only does linguistics fail to illuminate the meaning of legal texts, the approach to meaning taken by its practitioners is, philosophically speaking, nonsensical.’ In the brief space of this article, I want to suggest why linguistics is a red herring on the trail to the meaning of legal texts.
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Using Common Sense: A Linguistic Perspective on Judicial Interpretations of “Use a Firearm”

Clark D. Cunningham and Charles J. Fillmore
This Article will show how analytical methods of legal and linguistic scholarship can interact to examine a legal text, in particular a provision of the federal criminal code, the interpretation of which has been hotly contested within the legal system.
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When Worldviews Collide: Linguistic Theory Meets Legal Semantics in United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc.

Craig Hoffman
I would like to take a closer look here at how linguists and lawyers look at language (sentences) and how they build analyses in their own disciplines. I will then suggest how the more theoretical approach of linguists could be integrated with the more practical approach of lawyers.
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Grammar and Inferences of Rationality in Interpreting the Child Pornography Statute

Georgia M. Green and Jeffrey P. Kaplan
On November 29, 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc., a case which sharply divided participants at the symposium conference. Our discussion here re-constitutes the linguistic analysis which was reduced to a summary in the amicus brief filed by the Law and Linguistics Consortium in that case, and explores the issues which the conclusion of that analysis raised at the symposium.
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Plain Meaning and Linguistics—A Case Study

Michael S. Moore
Semantics is the locus of a potentially fruitful co-operation between linguists and lawyers. Yet one of the pervasive dangers in interdisciplinary work is that the urge to integrate the insights of one discipline with the tasks of another often causes a warping of the latter in order to make it more receptive to the proposed integration. Such I fear is the case with the linguistics expertise proffered to the United…
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Law As a Species of Language Acquisition

Jim Chen
Without fanfare, Plain Meaning and Hard Cases relegated its discussion of phonetics, phonology, and morphology to a single footnote. One must strain to imagine how the mechanics of sound production or the sound system of the English language might affect the law. Linguistics at too high a level of abstraction likewise seems unhelpful. American law rarely considers the nuances of foreign languages,’ and a fortiori the entire field of comparative…



Children, Curfews, and the Constitution

Katherine Hunt Federle
In this Article, I propose an account that redresses the powerlessness of children. Any such account must approach the problem of children’s rights by rejecting capacity as an organizing principle. Furthermore, this approach acknowledges that rights have value because they have empowering effects which reduce victimization and marginalization and permit challenges to hierarchy and inequality. This approach takes power as a central principle and contends that in any given dynamic,…