Penn State professors pen book on role of legal signs in law

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A new book by two faculty members at Penn State explains the foundations and complex history of legal signs and how they have influenced and formed the laws of today. Signs in Law--A Source Book: The Semiotics of Law in Legal Education by Jan M. Broekman, distinguished visiting scholar, and Larry Catá Backer, W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar and professor of law and international affairs, was recently published by Springer.

"Lawyers deal in words and their meaning,” writes Backer, who teaches classes in constitutional, corporate, and transnational law and policy and blogs at Law at the End of the Day. “The best lawyers understand the way such meaning is made and the methods that can be used to shape or focus meaning in their work. This book helps to further the understanding of the nature of one of the most critical tools in the lawyers’ toolkit.”

Legal semiotics is the study of the philosophy of meaning in law and was initiated around 1900 in London and Amsterdam – the book provides its basic texts – and later developed in part by the late Roberta Kevelson, a Penn State professor who was an influential advocate of important strands of modern legal semiotics, and who established the Penn State Center for Semiotic Research in Law, Government and Politics.

“Reading a text is a confrontation with a moment of life called ‘text,’” says Broekman, professor emeritus of KU Leuven in Belgium. “Our generally accepted concept of a ‘text’ is thus a snapshot of a more encompassing engenderment. Legal texts challenge this insight. Their conventional reading focuses on surface-meanings, on techniques of text without consciously engaging in its deeper meanings and their entire process character. The best legal scholars adhere to this desire, which leads to various legal-theoretical frameworks.”

This book, the third of a three-volume series, is currently available as an e-book. A hardcopy will be released on Dec. 14. Volumes 1 and 2 were published by Springer in 2011 and 2012, respectively.