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What is Meaning in a Legal Text?

A Special Issue of the Washington University Law Quarterly

General Information

The fall 1995 issue of WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW QUARTERLY (Vol. 73, No. 3) is a special issue focusing on linguistics and law. Its centerpiece is the transcript of an interdisciplinary conference held this spring, entitled, “What is Meaning in a Legal Text? A Dialogue Among Scholars of Law and Linguistics,” which was sponsored by Northwestern University and Washington University Law School. In addition, it contains 7 essays by conference participants and 18 essays by other scholars (primarily from the law) offering commentary on the themes of the conference: meaning and interpretation in legal contexts, and the possibilities for intellectual as well as practical collaboration between the two disciplines. The linguist authors include Charles Fillmore, Michael Geis, Georgia Green, Lawrence Horn, Jeffrey Kaplan, and Judith Levi, as well as linguists-turned-lawyers Lawrence Solan and Peter Tiersma.

Three of the articles (by Law Professor Clark Cunningham and Fillmore, by Geis, and by Solan) analyze the phrase “use a firearm” in the federal criminal statute whose interpretation is at the center of U. S. v. Bailey, a case on the fall docket of the U. S. Supreme Court. Anticipating oral argument before the Court on October 30, the authors of the most comprehensive article on the case (“Using Common Sense” by Clark Cunningham and Charles Fillmore) have sent copies to all the Justices and the attorneys for both sides in the case. This will be the second time that independent research by a lawyer-linguist team has been provided to the Supreme Court in order to assist the Justices in interpreting disputed language; the first time occurred in fall 1993, when the authors of a Yale Law Journal article, “Plain Meaning and Hard Cases” [103.6:1561-1625], submitted their article in galley form to the Justices, in advance of their hearing oral argument on the three cases analyzed within the article. The article was subsequently cited by two Justices in three separate cases.)


  • Northwestern University/Washington University Law and Linguistics Conference (includes Proceedings transcript)
  • Reflections on the Intersection of Law and Linguistics (11 essays)
  • On Statutory Interpretation (3 essays)
  • On Regulatory Variables (2 essays)
  • On Meaning (3 essays)
  • Linguistic Analysis of Judicial Decisionmaking (4 essays)
  • Related Article (1 essay)

How to Order

The fall 1995 issue of Washington University Law Quarterly (Vol. 73, No. 3) is available from William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 1285 Main Street, Buffalo, N.Y. 14209. The price is $15.00 per book (this includes shipping & handling).