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Corpus Linguistics and Legal Rhetoric

Submitted by syntaxfactory on July 21, 2011 - 7:49am

From Language Log:

Corpus linguistics in a legal opinion
July 20, 2011 @ 5:49 am · Filed by Mark Liberman under Language and the law

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Gordon Smith, "A Landmark Opinion: Corpus Linguistics in the Courts", The Conglomerate 7/19/2011:
"Last month I blogged about the "best student comment ever," the first law review article to rely on corpus linguistics as the basis for analysis. As I have worked with corpus linguistics (through the comment's author, Stephen Mouritsen) over the past few months, I have come to conclude that it will revolutionize the study of law, at least insofar as we are attempting to understand word usages.
"Today, my former colleage and current Utah Supreme Court Justice Tom Lee used corpus linguistics in a lengthy concurring opinion (the relevant section starts at page 34). In this opinion, Justice Lee is interpreting the word "custody," and he brings corpus linguistics to the fight. […] Justice Lee's collegues are not enamored with the approach, but you can read the opinions for yourself and see who gets the better of the argument.
"This seems to be the first judicial opinion anywhere using corpus linguistics, but it will surely not be the last."

Is it true that there have been no previous law review articles using corpus linguistics? Amazing, if true.

Corpus-based surveys of usage have certainly figured in legal arguments before — I discussed Neal Goldfarb's use of corpus evidence in an amicus brief here, and Ben Zimmer cited the apparent effect of Neal's work in "The Corpus in the Court: 'Like Lexis on Steroids'", The Atlantic 3/4/2011. But it might be true that corpus evidence has never been directly cited in a judicial opinion. Again, a striking notion.

Whether or not these events are really without precedent, it's surely true that this is an idea whose future is much larger than its past.

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