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International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law
International Journal for the Semiotics of Law

Welcome to Semiotics of Law

Semiotics of Law is an independent website dedicated to the diffusion of information on "Seme" and "Law" and hosts different independent entities promoting similar activities; i.e. The International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law (IRSL), The International Journal for the Semiotics of Law (IJSL), The Legal Semiotics Monographs (LSM) and The Roberta Kevelson Seminar on Law and Semiotics (LSS).

Semiotics of Law is a forum which aims at:

Why study the Semiotics of Law?

Because The Law is a sign - both as an institution and in its every content. Thus, every aspect of The Law involves not the dyadic relations of the physical sciences, but the triadic relations of the semiotic sciences. The proper tools of analysis are therefore Relational Algebra and Triadic Logic; and every question of legal philosophy involves the tridimensional aspects of syntactic meaning, pragmatic meaning, and semantic meaning.

The Syntactic Dimension: incorporates all of the formal structure of The Law, from the concept of the institution to the grammar of its content, and all of the meaning associated with any of these.

The Pragmatic Dimension: involves all of the structure involved in using The Law, including the Social and Behavioral Context, use, interpreter, interpretation, teleology, and spirit of The Law, and all of the meaning associated with any of these. This dimension includes such concepts as self, culture, value, goals, and ethics.

The Semantic Dimension: contains all of the structure involved in the awareness and cognitive un-derstanding of The Law, including such important concepts as individuals, generals, and universals, and all of the meaning associated with any of these.

Why Would Law Students Study Semiotics? (Jan M. Broekman)

The question is intriguing in all regards. There is no student of law with a mandatory course on legal semiotics and there is no US Bar Exam or European requirement that focuses on legal semiotics. The expression is alien in Courts and semiotics seems an affair far outside the normal legal discourses and their constitutive principles.

One should, however, observe how all discourses are structured by means of special dynamics and build with specific elements. These dynamics are not in the hands of logicians and the composite elements are not the words a spoken by lawyers and other institutional speakers. Law's language forms a special environment of signs, symbols, meanings and rhetorical forms. Students are taught to understand and practice that language called 'law' through the study of jurisprudence, judgments, precedent and cases whose titles became well-known names in society. They must master legal writing, legal argumentation, understand the predominant legal hierarchy - but all this remains vague and void without semiotic insight. Who knows and understands this?

Semiotics is about signs and symbols, meanings and uses of their complexity. Emphasis is on the sign, which forms the nucleus of semiosis with the ancient Greek notion of seme (=signs) as the central component in its name. Names, ideas and other forms of expression are altogether a sign, and signs in signs, which forms a core concept of each process of meaning formation. A sign is a something that related to something else for someone in some respect or capacity. Where is the 'something' and the 'else'? This is both general and precise, and could help lawyers to clarify their task in social life.

A law student should be confronted with and prepared for his professional life by means of understanding two types of environment: the legal and the semiotic. The latter is a language environment in which spoken words and other forms of speech activity create important modes of intercation. Do these forms of interaction really lead to interactivity? Law and everyday society are seldom in perfect concordance.

As a consequence, a law student must understand the complexity and plural structure of text and discourse. That understanding is not just the application of some semiotic clarifications such as in Greimas' famous Square, where opposite meanings are logically played out against each other and show a deeper structure, which remained hitherto unperceived. Semiotics is not a matter of application in another discourse such as law or medicine! On the contrary, any semiotic interest in law reaches beyond a law student's instrumentalism. Students learn to grasp beneath the surface of the legal evident, which is in the course books and cases. Why should one study legal semiotics? Most certainly to leave one's naïveté behind and enjoy the complexity of human life and law!

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