Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Question regarding semantics of resolution for college policy debate
Question: I am a policy debater at the University of Michigan. For the entire
year we debate about a single resolution and have to propose
policies that fall under the scope of the resolution. Part of the
debate is figuring out the best way to interpret words in the
resolution, and a prerequisite to that is an understanding of the
semantics of the language used in the resolution.

This year's national resolution is:

''Resolved: The United States Federal Government should
substantially reduce restrictions on and/or substantially increase
financial incentives for energy production in the United States of
one or more of the following: coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear
power, solar power, wind power.''

My question regards the prepositional phrase ''in the United
States.'' Does this phrase modify the verbs (''reduce... and/or...
increase,'' meaning that the action must take place in the United
States), the direct objects (''restrictions... and/or... financial
incentives,'' meaning that the restrictions/incentives must be
lifted/provided in the United States), or the other prepositional
phrase (''for energy production,'' meaning that the energy
production must occur in the United States)?

Reply: I agree it's ambiguous. I don't know what you procedures you use to clarify a
resolution, but if I were in your situation, I would invoke them.

One reason legal language is so complex is that it needs to clarify ambiguities such as
how the prepositional phrase should be interpreted. In the normal course of events we
use real world information to resolve these ambiguities (as noted by Dr. Sampson), but
court cases can happen BECAUSE parties are in conflict over an ambiguous phrase.

Clarifying ambiguities, especially when two parties may not be inclined to cooperate,
can therefore require some effort in the legal profession.

Hope this makes sense
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 31-Jan-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Question regarding semantics of resolution for college policy debate    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (31-Jan-2013)

Back to Most Recent Questions