Law 942 - Language in the Law

General Course Description:

As the law consists of, in, and through language, and is its practice executed through language, it seems appropriate to take an initial look at some of the many ways this linguistic “materiality” of law informs the structure, the formulation and the practical conduct of law. Unsurprisingly, then, a more precise awareness and knowledge of the role of language in the law will instrumental in understanding how the law as a regulative normative system works. The aim of the course is to lead to a deeper understanding of linguistic side of the law and to linguistically more watertight modes of argumentation in dealing with practical cases.

After surveying areas of contact between language and the law, and to which extent different legal systems pose different challenges for linguistic analysis, this survey course discusses aspects where access to the law as an essential democratic right hinges on using - or not using - specific types of language and dialects. Language rights and access to the law as forms of political participation are also the behind issues in legal translation and interpretation. The class aims to provide a sound theoretical grounding for dealing with language-related issues in litigation.

Picking up on a tradition at UCLA Law School of dealing with “interpretation” in law, the course will proceed to analyze the way legal interpretation is dependent on the extraction of meaning from words, sentences and discourses. More precisely, how much meaning is “in the words”, and how much has to be inferred, or, in fact, interpreted? This leads to the issue of exactly what “literal meaning” is from the linguistic and pragmatic, and legal point of view and how the latter depends on the former. It is obviously the case that interpretation “rules” in normal language and in legal language differ.

This also applies to in the context of oral discourse in, e.g. police interviews, where not only floor rules of communication are different, but also rules of interpretation for speech acts (what is a lie in real life and what counts as a lie in a legal context?) are different.

The last course will deal with methodological prerequisites for the judicious use of linguistic evidence in forensic contexts as a first step in a scientifically-based evaluation of the argumentative value of linguistic and stylistic data by jurists.

Course Specific Learning Outcomes:

The course aims to provide law students with scientifically-based linguistic knowledge as the basis for decisions in language-based issues, to better understand how legal reasoning is based on constructing linguistic meanings from (legal) text and conext, and how communication in written and spoken discourse is based on very specific pragmatic principles of cooperation that may differ from whatever is "ordinary" cooperation.

Course Information: