LAWnLinguistics: Corpora and the Second Amendment

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

If you’re ever looking for the epicenter of the intersection of law and linguistics, Georgetown linguistics professor Neil Goldfarb of LAWnLinguistics and Language Log has a really terrific series of posts on the topic of Corpora and the Second Amendment.

In his posts, Goldfarb relies on a corpus of language composed of actual language from the time period when the Constitution was created and then uses the corpus data to deconstruct the likely intended meaning of the language of the Second Amendment, including the words “bear,” “arms” and “militia.”

Needless to say, the linguistic investigation reaches fairly different conclusions from the Supreme Court that are worth understanding if you have any interest in Second Amendment law, and interpretation of terms in any legal case for that matter.

See below for additional readings on the application of linguistic principles in legal interpretation: to cons in interpreting language:

  1. Hoffman, Craig, “Parse the Sentence First: Curbing the Urge to Resort to the Dictionary when Interpreting Legal Texts,” 6 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y 401 (2002-2003) (Note: Professor Craig Hoffman is Director of Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law School.)
  2. Rubin, Philip A., “War of the Words: How Courts Can Use Dictionaries In Accordance with Textualist Principles,” 2010
  3. Goldfarb, Neal, “The Use of Corpus Linguistics in Legal Interpretation” (June 19, 2020). 2021. Annual Review of Linguistics. Vol. 7. Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Did I leave out any of your favorites? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

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