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International Law and Pragmatics. An Account of Interpretation in International Law


In this interdisciplinary paper, a legal scholar and a linguist aim to combine the scientific strands of linguistics and international law. Linguistics, and especially pragmatics, has not yet been fully integrated into the study of interpretation in international law, although some international legal scholars have started to apply the labels “linguistic” or “pragmatic” to their work on interpretation. While they do take into account research in the field of law and language, there is a tendency to follow very traditional approaches according to which semantics and pragmatics are divided into neatly separated domains. We posit a parallel between legal interpretation and pragmatics. Pragmatics has evolved from the so-called “waste-basket” of linguistics to become a fully-fledged discipline. The same should be true of legal interpretation and its study in international law, which should no longer be considered merely a legal afterthought – as if meaning were “all in the text”. We argue that scientifically grounded pragmatics should be applied to legal interpretation. Recent research in linguistics and pragmatics, and the concepts that such research has provided, may also help us to build a stronger scientific foundation for the debate within international law on interpretation. Integrating pragmatics may allow for a more suitable model of legal interpretation than the sociological approaches some international lawyers have turned to. This may also provide a plausible link between the actors and structures of legal interpretation.

Cite as: Smolka & Pirker, JLL 5 (2016), 1–40, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2016.001

صندلی اداری سرور مجازی ایران Decentralized Exchange


International law, legal interpretation, law and language, linguistics, semantics, pragmatics, cognitive sciences, interdisciplinarity



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