The Use of Corpus Linguistics in Legal Interpretation
Annual Review of Linguistics. 2021. 7:473–91
Posted: 14 Jul 2020 Last revised: 25 Jan 2021
Date Written: June 19, 2020
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Over the past decade, the idea of using corpus linguistics in legal interpretation has attracted interest on the part of judges, lawyers, and legal academics in the United States. This paper provides an introduction to this nascent movement, which is generally referred to as “Law and Corpus Linguistics” or “LCL”. After briefly summarizing LCL’s origin and development, we will situate LCL within legal interpretation, by discussing the legal concept of “ordinary meaning,” which establishes the framework within which LCL operates, and within linguistics, by identifying the subfields that are most relevant to LCL. We will then offer a linguistic justification for an idea that is implicit in the case law and that provides important support for using corpus analysis in legal interpretation: that data about patterns of usage provides evidence of how words and other expressions are ordinarily understood. We go on to discuss linguistic issues arising from the use of corpus linguistics in dealing with disputes involving lexical ambiguity and categorization. The paper concludes by pointing out some challenges that the growth of LCL will present for both legal professionals and linguists.
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Keywords: corpus linguistics, legal interpretation, lexicography, cognitive linguistics, lexical semantics, categorization
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