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When Lawyers Are More Logical Than Ordinary Speakers and When They Are Not: An Empirical Enquiry into Laypersons' and Legal Experts' Understanding of Pragmatic Meanings


There is currently underway a wide debate on the nature of legal interpretation. At issue, in particular, is whether legal interpretation is a form of communication that can be assimilated to ordinary communication or whether it is marked by an irreducible specificity. One aspect of this debate concerns pragmatic meanings, i.e., meanings which are not expressed by the semantic content of legal provisions, but which can be grasped through pragmatic inferences. According to some authors, legal experts do not ordinarily rely on such meanings, or, better to say, they do not rely on them as routinely as ordinary speakers do. In order to test the hypothesis that legal experts are less prone to rely on pragmatic meanings, we have designed a pilot experiment comparing the way in which pragmatic meaning factors into the way people with legal training at university level (target group) and people with nonlegal training at university level (control group) interpret both nonlegal (ordinary) sentences and legal texts. Our findings show that a legal education does not make one any less inclined to attribute pragmatic meanings to legal texts. This suggests that legal experts conceive of legal interpretation as a form of communication, not significantly different from ordinary interpretation. What this also seems to suggest is that pragmatic theories of ordinary meaning can be useful in explaining and predicting the ways in which legal texts are interpreted.

Cite as: Domaneschi, Poggi & Marocchini, JLL 11 (2022), 121–141, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2022.121

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legal interpretation, experimental jurisprudence, legal pragmatics, literal interpretation



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