Did Samuel Bronston Commit Perjury? A Study in Discourse Semantics

Luis López


In the landmark case Bronston v. US, the Supreme Court put forward a reading of the perjury statute according to which one could only be tried for perjury on the basis of what one had stated, not what was implicated. This decision has given rise to a number of theoretical and practical problems, best detailed in Tiersma (1990) and Douglis (2018). This article argues that a formal investigation of discourse structure, of the type developed in Asher and Lascarides (2003), coupled with an understanding of the role of ellipsis in discourse, allows us to develop a framework that captures those instances of perjury that seem to fall through the cracks of the literal truth condition without introducing speaker’s intent on the solution. The crucial idea that the analysis hinges on is the notion that an indirect answer to a question is a two-node discourse with an elliptical polarity answer. Approaches based on Grice’s implicatures or speaker’s communicative intent are discussed and shown to be inadequate.

Cite as: López, JLL 10 (2021), 1–23, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2021.001


perjury, implicature, Segmented Discourse Representation Theory, discourse structure

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14762/jll.2021.001


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