International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 3, No 2 (1996)

Can linguists help judges know what they mean? Linguistic semantics in the court-room.

Cliff Goddard
Issued Date: 1 May 2013


This paper considers how linguistic semantics can assist judges in determining the ' plain meaning' of words for the purpose of statutory interpretation. It describes the main schools of contemporary semantics, showing that leading experts in the field differ enormously in their basic assumptions and methods. It gives a detailed critique of surveys as a research method in semantics, concentrating on a recent American study (Cunningham et al., 1994) which has been proposed as a model of how linguists can help judges. Although the author advocates Anna Wierzbicka's reductive paraphrase approach and seeks to demonstrate its value for conceptual analysis in legal contexts, he argues that in view of the fragmented and under-developed state of lexical semantics it would be ill-advised for courts to recognise linguists as experts on word meanings.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.v3i2.250


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