Conversational Implicatures and Legal Texts

Ratio Juris 29 (1):23-43 (2016)
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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 noncooperative nature, though, do not establish the inapplicability of conversational implicatures to legislation



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Citations of this work

Implicatures in judicial opinions.Marat Shardimgaliev - 2019 - International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue Internationale de Sémiotique Juridique 32 (2):391-415.
Review Article of Implicatures Within Legal Language by Izabela Skoczeń.Francesca Poggi - 2020 - International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue Internationale de Sémiotique Juridique 33 (4):1199-1205.

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References found in this work

Logic and Conversation.H. Paul Grice - 1989 - In Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press. pp. 22-40.
A Natural History of Negation.Laurence R. Horn - 1989 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 24 (2):164-168.
A Natural History of Negation.Jon Barwise & Laurence R. Horn - 1991 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 56 (3):1103.
The pragmatics of legal language.Andrei Marmor - 2008 - Ratio Juris 21 (4):423-452.

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