Semiotics

One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how much literary analysis there is in law.

I had gone into this with the (apparently mistaken) impression that at a certain level, it would be far more certain and concrete than the study of literature. Oh, how wrong I was. Take what we studied in Contracts today: the interpretation exception to the Parol Evidence Rule. Now, one might think a contract is and will be exactly what it says it is (the so-called “Four Corners” rule): its meaning and totality are circumscribed solely by what is written down on the page. Yet here is the opening line of the case we spent the majority of class discussing: “The issue is: what is chicken?” What followed was a very long opinion on whether “chicken” meant what the ordinary definition of chicken would be (a bird that humans eat pretty often) or the definition of chicken as proscribed by the poultry trade standard, or some weird hybrid definition in between the German “huhn” and the English “chicken.”

This allowed me to flex my nerdly theoretical muscles and bring up Saussure and semiotics during the discussion, an act which I’m sure made me look like a pretentious fool and earned me no favors from my classmates. But what we have here is the very structural linguistic issues I loved thinking about while I was studying literary theory and criticism, applied to real world situations. There’s a lot more leeway in the law than I thought, and once I start thinking of these cases as texts, instead of statements of fact, I start to have a lot more fun with them.

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2 Responses to Semiotics

  1. kulagirl says:

    glad you’re having fun with it!

  2. Alex says:

    i totally remember that case. and a few of the others you’ve written about

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