Oxford Handbook of Language And Law
Oxford University Press (2012)
Professor Solan wrote the introduction and two chapters in Oxford Handbook of Language and Law.
In “The Language of Crime,” he and Peter Tiersma write that many crimes are generally performed by using language. Among them are solicitation, conspiracy, perjury, threatening, and bribery. In this chapter, they look at these crimes as acts of speech, and find that they have much in common – and a few interesting differences. For one thing, they involve different acts of speech, ranging from promises to orders. For another, most language crimes can be committed through indirect speech. Few criminals will say, “I hereby offer you a bribe,” or “I hereby engage you to kill my spouse.” Many of the legal battles involve the extent to which courts may draw inferences of communicative intent from language that does not literally appear to be criminal. Yet the legal system draws a line in the sand when it comes to perjury, a crime that can only be committed through a direct fabrication. In their chapter they provide a structured discussion of these various crimes that should serve to explain the similarities and difference among them.
In “Linguistic Issues in Statutory Interpretation,” Solan argues that each time a dispute arises over the proper interpretation of a law, it means that the legal system has somehow failed to provide clear guidance as to how people must behave and what rights they have against others who wrong them. This chapter explores what things go wrong linguistically that lead to interpretive problems. Solan writes that “this approach is interesting because the results of the inquiry show that many aspects of our linguistic knowledge cause very few interpretive problems, but that others, especially the problem of borderline situations in the interpretation of statutory words, present constant difficulty. Word meaning, in turn, is generally flexible enough in ordinary life to enable us to incorporate new situations into categories that we have already formed, permitting us to organize our worlds efficiently. When interpretive dilemmas are explored in this manner, we see that statutory interpretation works quite well most of the time, but that certain problems are predictably recurrent ones. While the problems that arise may be conceptual and linguistic in nature, the solutions must be political and legal ones.”