Revisiting legal terms: A semiotic perspective

Le Cheng, Winnie Cheng, King Kui Sin

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Although legal terms are conventionally considered to have self-referential, self-closed meaning independent of context, a legal term only acquires its meaning within a given context. As long as the context varies, the meaning of the same legal term as a signifier may change correspondingly. Based on case studies by applying semiotics, we argue that a legal term is just a sign within its sign system; a legal term as an individual sign does not have any inherent meaning, and its meaning can only exist in the relationship with other signs or sign systems. In other words, a legal term only denotes in a particular temporal and spatial context. Through this study, we conclude four propositions about a legal term as a sign: first, the connection of a legal term with a legal concept is relatively arbitrary; second, the meaning of a legal term exists in a sign system; third, a legal term can be subject to multiple interpretations; fourth, the defining of a legal term may be affected by other sign systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-182
Number of pages16
Issue number202
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Diversity
  • Dynamicity
  • Legal term
  • Semiotic perspective
  • Sign

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Revisiting legal terms: A semiotic perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this