Topics


  1. An introduction to meaning and interpretation through examples: concepts, approaches and issues
  2. Interpretation as pervasive in literature, religion and social interactio
  3. Linguistic approaches to lexical meaning and questions of ambiguity, polysemy, vagueness, and indeterminacy
  4. Legal approaches to meaning and interpretation, focussing on “ordinary meaning”
  5. Jurisprudential debates about legal interpretation and the question of indeterminacy
  6. Decided cases concerning classification of objects, events, activities and people
  7. Settling the contested meaning of words in different contexts
  8. Expertise and interpretation: linguists, judges, literary critics and ordinary speakers

 

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Objectives


Students will gain an understanding of the fundamental interpretative dilemmas of law, and the relationship of these both to the socio-political context of legal rules, and to debates within the humanities about interpretative authority. They will gain diagnostic and analytic skills in relation to language in legal problems, and an understanding of the limits of legal certainty.

 

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Organisation


The course has three timetabled hours per week. The first two hours involve a mixture of lecture and in-class exercises. Students will be given extensive opportunities to analyze problem cases. The third hour will be used as required for review of case materials or for informal discussion. Final arrangements for the use of the third hour will depend on the number of students enrolled.

 

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Assessment


The primary requirements are a mid-term in-class test (25% of final grade) and a term essay of 3000-3500 words (75% of final grade). The final essay requires engagement both with actual cases and the theoretical debates introduced during the course.

 

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Texts


The primary text is Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation (C.M. Hutton, Palgrave, 2014). Students will be given weekly handouts outlining the basic concepts, as well as containing exercises and bibliography, and will be directed to relevant readings in law and linguistics journals. There are many relevant journals, including the International Journal of Speech language and the Law; Yale Journal of Law & Humanities; Law & Literature.

 

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Points to note


  • No technical knowledge of law and linguistics required – but these are technical subjects with their own specialized terminology;
  • Lecture + workshop format;
  • The emphasis is on understanding and applying interpretative theory to real legal questions and social problems.

 

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Last updated: 8 July 2016