Stanley Fish, discussing John Paul Stevens' reasoning about the value of anonymous speech ("Anonymity and the Dark Side of the Internet", NYT 1/3/2011):
… it is not true that a text’s meaning is the same whether or not its source is known. Suppose I receive an anonymous note asserting that I have been betrayed by a friend. I will not know what to make of it — is it a cruel joke, a slander, a warning, a test? But if I manage to identify the note’s author — it’s a friend or an enemy or a known gossip — I will be able to reason about its meaning because I will know what kind of person composed it and what motives that person might have had.
Two persons who speak only English see sculpted in the desert sand the words “LEAVE HERE OR DIE.” It may well be that the words were the fortuitous effect of wind, but the message they convey is clear, and I think our subjects would not gamble on the fortuity. […]
If the ringing of an alarm bell has been established, in a particular building, as the conventional signal that the building must be evacuated, it will convey that meaning even if it is activated by a monkey. […]
What is needed for a symbol to convey meaning is not an intelligent author, but a conventional understanding on the part of the readers or hearers that certain signs or certain sounds represent certain concepts. In the case of legal texts, we do not always know the authors, and when we do the authors are often numerous and may intend to attach various meanings to their composite handiwork. But we know when and where the words were promulgated, and thus we can ordinarily tell without the slightest difficulty what they meant to those who read or heard them.
I disagree with both Prof. Fish and Justice Scalia, but my main purpose here is to observe again how odd it is that law schools (and English departments) generally require no linguistics courses of their applicants, and teach no linguistics to their students.
[Some useful discussion of textualism, intentionalism, purposivism, originalism, etc., can be found here, here, here, and here (but beware …). An earlier piece by Stanley Fish on textualism and intentionalism is here. Some earlier LL posts on more-or-less related topics are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.]