Textual Analysis

AuthorRuth Sullivan
When a person reads a text, t he process of meaning formation is large-
ly intuitive and unconscious: as a text is read, an idea of its meaning
comes spontaneously to mind. Through textual analysis, however, in-
terpreters can explore, ref‌ine, and te st their initial impres sion by exam-
ining the text more self-consciously by identifyi ng the conventions
and assumptions relied on and spelling out the reasoning that justif‌ies
their i ntuitive outcome.
In analyzing legislative texts, interpreters dr aw not only on the or-
dinary conventions of la nguage and common sense but also on the
presumptions about legislative drafting described in Ch apter 2:
The legislature has f‌lawles s linguistic competence and encyclopedic
It has intel ligible goals and a rational plan for achieving them.
Its choice of words, word order, and structure and its sequencing of
material are ca reful and orderly, wit h an accurate appreciation of the
impact on meaning.
It uses a d irect, straightforward style, avoiding rhetorical devices
and relying on f‌ixed patterns and pattern variations.
Ever y feature of the text is there for a reason and has its own work to do.
These drafting conventions operate in a manner similar to t he ordinary
conventions of language. Insofar as t hey are shared by both dra fter and
audience, they facilitate clear and accur ate communication.
The f‌irst step in textual analysis is to determine the g rammatical str uc-
ture of the legislative sentence by identif ying the elements of subject,
verb, object, and complement and by noting the relation of the modi-
fying words, phras es, and clauses to these basic elements. The next
step is to see what inferences can b e drawn about the meaning of the
sentence, having regard to the conventions of dra fting described above.
Here the interpreter looks for parallel str uctures and other patterns, for
recurring t hemes, and for variations in wording, pattern s, and themes.
Above all, the interpreter asks “why” questions: why this choice of
word? this combination of words? this arrangement?
A Criminal Code provision analyzed by Ontario’s Court of Appeal
in R v Vol an te 1 offers a good illustration of this approach. The accused
in Vola nt e owned si x gambling machines, which he put in a café owned
and operated by someone else. His contact wit h the machines consisted
of visiting the ca fé at least once a week to ensure that the machine s
were in working order and to pick up his portion of the proceeds. The
issue was whether in so doing he “kept” the machines contr ary to sec-
tion 202(1)(b) of the Criminal Code:
Every one commits an of fence who
. . .
(b) imports, m akes, buys, sells, rent s, leases, hire s or keeps, ex-
hibits, employs or knowin gly allows to be kept, exhibited or
employed in any place under his cont rol any device or appar-
atus for the purpos e of recording or registering bets or sel ling
a pool, or any machine or dev ice for gambling or betting.
Like all legislative sentences, this is a complete sentence; it de-
scribes the fact s to which it is applicable, followed by a description of
the legal consequences attaching to those facts. The grammatical struc-
ture of the sentence is as follows:
(subject) (verb) (object) (clause modifying “every one”)
Every o ne commits an of‌fence who performs a prohibited ac t
The grammatical st ructure of the modify ing clause is as follows:
1 (1993), 14 OR (3d) 682 (C A) [Vo lan te]. For other examples, s ee Sun Indalex Fi-
nance, LLC v United Steelworkers, 2013 SCC 6 at para 153; Monsan to Canada Inc
v Ontario (Superin tendent of Financial Ser vices), 200 4 SCC 54 at para 27ff; Barrie
Public Utilities v Canad ian Cable Television Assn, [2003] 1 SCR 476 at para 22ff.

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