The path forward for law and corpus linguistics

For reasons we’ve been discussing, we see corpus linguistic analysis playing a central role in legal interpretation going forward. When problems of ambiguity in legal language arise, we expect judges and lawyers to turn increasingly to data from linguistic databases and less to mere dictionaries. Corpus linguistics will form an important part of the future of legal interpretation.

Yet we have to admit it has been a little slow to catch on. One of us is a judge (on the Utah Supreme Court) who has advocated the use of corpus analysis in judicial opinions — in cases raising the question of the meaning of a “custody” proceeding under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (here) and the question of the meaning of the “discharge” of a firearm (here). (The other was the law clerk who cajoled the judge into using linguistic tools for interpretation.) And the reception among this judge’s colleagues has been a bit less than enthusiastic. At least one colleague implied that sua sponte corpus analysis ran afoul of judicial canons of ethics. And the vote count of concurrences in this judge’s corpus linguistic opinions stands at … zero. The closest we’ve come is an indication by one colleague of the possibility of considering this methodology in an “appropriate case” in the future. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Yet the reception elsewhere has been better. Our Utah corpus methodology has garnered seven more votes in Michigan than it has in Utah. In an important case in the Michigan Supreme Court, all seven justices turned to corpus linguistics to answer a question of ordinary meaning of a statute — citing the Utah opinions (and the former clerk’s article) and following their methodology. The case (here) raised the question of the meaning of the term “information” in a statute forbidding the use of “information”…

Read the full article at the Original Source..

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