Ambiguity And Vagueness In Legal Interpretation

Ralf Poscher

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Ambiguity And Vagueness In Legal Interpretation

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  • Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Pragmatics


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Few topics in the theory of language are as closely related to legal interpretation as the linguistic indeterminacy associated with ambiguity and vagueness. Significant portions of the institutional legal system, especially courts at the appellate level and supreme courts, are for the most part concerned not with disentangling the facts of cases but with the indeterminacies of the law. In a colloquial sense, both vagueness and ambiguity are employed generically to indicate indeterminacy. This is the sense in which vagueness is understood in the ‘void for vagueness’ doctrine, according to which a statute is considered void if it is framed in terms so indeterminate that its meaning can only be guessed at. Vagueness may relate to individuation or classification. There are at least four different vantage points from which to address the problems caused by vagueness: logic, ontology, epistemology, and semantics. This article explores ambiguity and vagueness in legal interpretation, and discusses other forms of indeterminacy, kinds of vagueness, and vagueness and the rule of law.

Keywords: ambiguity; vagueness; legal interpretation; indeterminacy; rule of law; individuation; classification; vagueness doctrine; logic; semantics

Article.  8833 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics ; Pragmatics

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