Legal interpretation: Meaning as social construction

Le Cheng, Winnie Cheng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates some cases related to the interpretation of law in Right of Abode cases heard by the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong, and discusses the sharp contrast between the different versions of interpretation of the same legislative expressions as the same signs in similar cases heard by the same court. This study does not aim to find out the legislative intent of legislation, but to investigate the process of meaning-making in general and the intent seeking in these cases in particular from a socio-semiotic perspective. The study concludes that meaning-making in legal settings is neither purely a jurisprudential operation nor the choice among different canons of legal interpretation. It is rather the dialogue demonstrated in various forms, such as power negotiation and interest weighing. The study, therefore, argues that legal interpretation is a social practice and meaning-making in legal settings is an enterprise of social dialogue and power negotiation; in other words, legal interpretation is in a sense an inter-semiotic operation between law and its interfaces with society and politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-448
Number of pages22
Issue number192
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012


  • Inter-semiotic operation
  • Legal interpretation
  • Meaning making
  • Power negotiation
  • Social construction
  • Social dialogue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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