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Macmillan Higher Education Palgrave Higher Education

Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation

An Introductory Guide

ISBN 9781137016140
Publication Date March 2014
Formats Paperback Ebook 
Publisher Palgrave

This book introduces ideas about word meaning in the context of law. It analyzes cases from common law jurisdictions that concern the meaning, definition and legal status of individual words, labels and categories. The focus is on the question of how law assigns authority over word meaning in different circumstances and in different domains of law.

Christopher Hutton is Chair Professor in the School of English at the University of Hong Kong.

Note on Conventions.- Introduction: Scope and Aims of the Book.- PART I: MEANING AND INTERPRETATION 1. Linguistic Meaning.- 2. Word Meaning and Interpretation in the Law.- 3. Ordinary Language and Legal Language.- PART II: CASE STUDIES 4. Classification and Legislative Intent.- 5. Characterizing an Event.- 6. The Classification of Mundane Objects I: Food Items in United Kingdom Tax Law.- 7. The Classification of Mundane Objects II: Cases from the United States.- 8. Technological Change and Legal Categories.- 9. Lawful and Unlawful Searches.- 10. Colonial Encounters: What is a Sacred Object?.- 11. Defining Identity I: Job or Profession.- 12. Defining Identity II: Nation, People and Race.- 13. Defining Identity III: Transgender Identities.- 14. Defining Identity IV: Corporate Personhood.- PART III: CONCLUDING DISCUSSION 15. Word Meaning and Interpretative Authority.- Abbreviations.- References.- Cases Cited.


Framed as an introduction, Hutton's book is much more than that. It is a masterpiece of lucidity in telling the stories of classic legal disputes over meaning from the US, Hong Kong, the UK and India, and associating each dispute with the linguistic dilemma that caused the disagreement and the legal culture that resolved it. For those who care about the law, the human mind, or both, it is a wonderful book to read.' Lawrence M. Solan, Brooklyn Law School, USA
'An authoritative and lively commentary on the range of considerations (including linguistics and lexicology, philosophy of language, ethics, sociology, and matters of policy) which bear on judges' efforts to be inspectably fair and reasonable in their descriptions (hence their classification) of particular contentious things and acts. Enlivened by a range of fascinating case-studies. Invaluable for students and practitioners of the law, but an intellectual feast also for anyone interested in grappling with the interpretive difficulties - which simply cannot be left intractable and unresolved, however suspect the decision may be - that senior judges face.' Michael Toolan, University of Birmingham, UK
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