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Language and Law Lecture Series: Dieter Stein

On Literalness

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Oct 23, 2012
from 04:10 PM to 05:00 PM


273 Kerr Hall

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Dieter Stein, Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf, studies language change, syntactic variation and meaning, language and law, the language of the internet, and the linguistics of hypertext. Recent books that he has co-edited include Genres in the Internet (2009, John Benjamins), Translation Issues in Language and Law (2009, Palgrave Macmillan), and Pathways of Change: Grammaticalization in English (2000, John Benjamins).


Literalness is one of those concepts, like markedness, style or analogy,  that serve as all-purpose battle horses in a great variety of argumentative contexts in linguistics and neighbouring disciplines that occasionally or systematically forage in one way or another way on concepts  linguistic. Apart from a history of use in linguistics and pragmatics, the concept of literalness figures prominently in applied contexts and in legal discourses.

Given the ubiquity of the notion in argumentation, and especially the practical relevance of the notion in legal argumentation, it makes sense to try to pinpoint the exact nature of this basically semiotic term and to determine if there is an underlying conceptual common ground of all or most uses of "literal" and what the ideological background of argumentations involving "literalness" is, given that the notion is often used not in a descriptive sense, but defines overt or covert preferences, such that a "literal" version is somehow the better or default one. After an initial focus on more narrowly linguistic uses, and on the role of literalness in language contact and production, the balance of the paper is focused on argumentations involving "literal" in law.

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