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Language, Meaning and the Law$
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Chris Hutton

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748633500

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748633500.001.0001

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Literal Meaning, the Dictionary and the Law

Literal Meaning, the Dictionary and the Law

(p.85) 5 Literal Meaning, the Dictionary and the Law
Language, Meaning and the Law

Christopher Hutton

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter looks more closely at some issues and trends in legal interpretation and legal decision making, against a background of debates in the United States in particular between originalism, textualism (Scalia) and the idea of living constitution. Both law and linguistics deploy the idea of literal meaning, but it is hard to find a convincing account of this problem. Courts use dictionaries to help with problems of interpretation but their approach is open to the charge of inconsistency. Linguists offer their own approaches to help in the identification of legally relevant meaning, but these are also problematic. Judges employ dictionaries because they offer an apparently objective framework, without any reference to the actual facts of the case.

Keywords:   Literal meaning, Dictionary, Originalism, Textualism, Antonin Scalia

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