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Theorizing the Language of Law


In this article I investigate the ways in which Alfonso X theorizes legal languages and how he institutes this theorization within both physical and cultural spaces that I call "spaces of certainty."

Rodríguez-Velasco, Jesús. “Theorizing the Language of Law.” Diacritics 36, 3-4: 64-86. Print.

“Law transforms reality, de iure and de facto, inasmuch as it attempts to bridge the gap between that which is done de facto and that which is regulated de iure. It is standard practice, for Alfonso X of Castile, to reinvent the means of writing the law. He does not limit himself to compiling or revising existing legal statutes; rather, he elevates the corpus of the law to the level of juridical science. Dominating the meaning of the word—its hermeneutics and its relation to truth, lies, rhetoric, history, and poetry—is also the key to dominating juridical discourse itself and its capacity for creating certainty. Or, at least, for controlling uncertainty. Uncertainty, that is to say, the ambiguity in the interpretation of the relationship between words and things, appears to be one of the targets of Alfonsine juridical science.

It is in the institutions that one can best study this desire for control. In particular, the need for control becomes visible in the court and the places related to it (the palace, chamber, or bedroom), codified by the law in order to put justice into action, in the representation of power, in cultural exchange, in education, and in recreation. Here legislation acquires a special significance with respect to the word, to narration, and to rhetoric. This is a philological problem: How does one compose and administer a text capable of controlling its own interpretation? How does one transpose this same dynamic to the institutions? How does one transmit this notion from the institution to those who inhabit it and who are, after all, the subjects of the legal science?

It is therefore fitting to examine legislation about legal discourse, which is, in itself, the theory of law—not, however, in its abstract aspects but rather in the concrete elements of the formation of a legal vocabulary, in the way in which words, whose semantic and hermeneutic problems are clear, give life to this legal vocabulary. How is legal discourse constructed? In what way is it transmitted? What are the consequences of its dissemination? In what way is the law in charge of words, in particular, those expressed in the institutions?” (63)

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