Sten Schaumburg-Müller – University of Copenhagen

Sten Schaumburg-Müller

Professor of Law, PhD & DrJur, Aarhus University

On a daily basis I teach and conduct research in the fields of legal philosophy, human rights and media law. Ever since I was a student I’ve been interested more generally in language – and more specifically in the relationship between law and language. There are fascinating similarities: We manage rules, we break rules (which is only an option to a certain extent, too much deviation invalidates the rules and makes law, language and communication equally impossible), and we constantly invent new ways of dealing with the rules, new kinds of contracts, new linguistic expressions etc. Both language and law are of a normative character, there are rights and wrongs in language as well as in law, even though there will always be disagreements on how and to which extent.  Furthermore, both law and language are subject to monopolizing and centralizing attempts: John Austin, the legal philosopher, successfully propagated the view that law consists of orders backed by threat from a centralized sovereign towards the subjects, and at the same time efforts were made to canonize certain dialects or sociolects to form the correct way of speaking and writing. Some hundred years later the philosopher John Langshaw Austin found that language is a social activity, a mere representation of the inner and outer world, and H.L.A. Hart questioned the centralized gunman-model of law. I believe that in combining legal and language studies we can advance our understanding of human beings, society, normativity and the problems of conformity. Besides, we may deepen our understanding and assessments of how to balance freedom of speech and the speech acts of insults, blasphemy, derision of groups and the like.

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