Corpus Linguistics and the Criminal Law

26 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2017 Last revised: 22 Dec 2017

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: September 4, 2017


This brief response to Ordinary Meaning and Corpus Linguistics, an essay by Stefan Gries and Brian Slocum, explains why corpus linguistics represents a radical break from current statutory interpretation practice, and it argues that corpus linguistics ought not be adopted as an interpretive methodology, especially for interpreting criminal laws. Corpus linguistics has superficial appeal because it promises to increase predictability and to decrease the role of judges’ personal preferences in statutory interpretation. But there are reasons to doubt that corpus linguistics can achieve these goals. More importantly, corpus linguistics sacrifices other, more important values, including notice and accountability.

Keywords: criminal law, statutory interpretaion, textualism, notice, accountability, corpus linguistics

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, Corpus Linguistics and the Criminal Law (September 4, 2017). Brigham Young University Law Review, No. 4, 2018, Forthcoming; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN:

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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