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Rethinking Law and Language

The Flagship ‘Speech’

Jan M. Broekman

The ‘law-language-law’ theme is deeply engraved in Occidental culture, more so than contemporary studies on the subject currently illustrate. This insightful book creates awareness of these cultural roots and shows how language and themes in law can be richer than studying a simple mutuality of motives. Rethinking Law and Language unveils today’s problems with the two faces of language: the analogue and the digital, on the basis of which our smart phones and Artificial Intelligence create modern life.
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Chapter 4: Signs signify

Jan M. Broekman


Charles S. Peirce inspired broader interest in the sign as a composite of the law–language relationship. Six domains in which the sign plays a role are indicated: “universe,” “science,” “language,” “communication,” “speech,” and “body–text relations.” The groundwork for legal semiotics is thus in significs as developed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Special attention is given to the Amsterdam Signific Circle, in particular the jurist, writer, philosopher, and politician J.I. de Haan, who held in 1916 the world’s first academic Chair in Legal Significs at Amsterdam University. His emphasis on function and essence of the “word” and his slogan “better language is better law” are analyzed. The Amsterdam mathematician and philosopher Gerrit Mannoury unfolded synthetic views on conceptualization—aspects in connection with the law–language theme were promoted in the same Circle and thus (in retrospect) also contributed to the study of signs and their signifying abilities.

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