Making Interpretation More Explicit: International Law and Pragmatics

In: Nordic Journal of International Law
Benedikt Pirker University of Fribourg, Switzerland

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Jennifer Smolka Freelance translator/linguist, formerly University of Geneva, Switzerland

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Building on earlier research, the present article integrates linguistics and pragmatics into the study of interpretation of treaties in international law. This approach aims to make the reasoning of interpreting agents and their appeals to interpretive canons more explicit and transparent. This is consequently demonstrated with a number of practical examples in which the process of legal interpretation and its accommodation of the mentioned norms of interpretation can be adequately described and modelled. At the same time, it is shown that legal language possesses certain particularities, but nevertheless ultimately follows the basic pragmatic rules of communication. Nonetheless, linguistics and pragmatics can only provide an ultimately descriptive account of interpretation, so that evaluative judgements on the normative questions of how to respect the norms of international law still need to be made and – from a normative perspective – the rules of international law are not replaced or abrogated.

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