Literal Meaning, the Dictionary and the Law

Christopher Hutton

in Language, Meaning and the Law

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780748633500
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671489 | DOI:
Literal Meaning, the Dictionary and the Law

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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

Chapter.  7581 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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