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Language and Self-Interest: Preliminary Notes Towards a Public Choice Approach to Legal Language, 73 Washington University Law Quarterly 1001 (1995)


Linguistics is the scientific study of human languages. In my view, one of the more interesting intersections between law and linguistics, which, unfortunately, was given scant attention at the Conference, is the use of language to do more than communicate facts, ideas, emotions and opinions. In my view, an equally important role for language is to affect the views of listeners (and readers) about speakers (and writers). Expanding on this idea, my thesis is that language in general, and legal language in particular, often is used as a tool for the subtle communication of information about the speaker. This use of language has little to do with the actual information being conveyed by the speaker. The information is a subterfuge for the real purpose of communication. This real purpose is to signal information about the speaker that will cause the listener to regard the speaker in the way that the speaker wants the listener to regard her. In this Essay I will give a few examples of this phenomenon in action.

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