Problems of Textualism

Take the sentence “I never said she stole my money.” This sentence has at least seven possible (and different) meanings. But the changes in meaning aren’t conveyed through the text; they’re conveyed through emphasis —something you can’t discern from the text alone.

Just look at the different meaning each sentence conveys:

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.  

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

Now go play with sentences in a statute or a contract or the Constitution, rereading them with the emphasis on different words. Yes, context usually helps in determining the meaning that makes the most sense. But this exercise shows that multiple meanings can be taken from the same text, and it can be difficult to say that one particular meaning is “correct” based on the text alone.