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09/23/2017

A Lot More from Neal Goldfarb on Corpus Linguistics
Michael Ramsey

At LAWnLinguistics, Neal Goldfarb: Meaning in the framework of corpus linguistics.  From the introduction:

At the end of my previous post discussing Carissa Hessick’s paper “Corpus Linguistics and the Criminal Law,” I said that I would follow up with another post “making the affirmative case for the relevance of frequency data in determining ordinary meaning.” This is that post.

Given that subject, you might wonder why I’ve titled this post “Meaning in the framework of corpus linguistics.” The answer is that corpus linguistics has not only provided a methodology for investigating meaning, it has also generated important insights about word meaning. (That was the subject of the paper I presented at the BYU symposium in February, which will be published, along with the other papers from the symposium, in a special issue of the BYU Law Review.) I’ll draw on those insights when I talk about frequency analysis, and I thought it would be helpful to make them explicit.

(A lengthy post that's not possible to excerpt meaningfully).

Via Larry Solum at Legal Theory Blog, who highlights this passage from Goldfarb:

ONE OF THE PREMISES of the usage-based approach to word meaning, in both corpus-based analysis and traditional lexicography, is that the patterns of actual usage constitute the subject of inquiry—the raw data to be analyzed—and that those patterns provide evidence of the various meanings that a word is used to convey. And in fact, actual usage does more than simply provide evidence of a word’s meaning(s), it determines those meanings. To state it differently, word meaning arises from usage.

And he adds: "This point is absolutely crucial to understanding the role of corpus linguistics in determination of the meaning (communicative content) of legal contexts.  The post is deeply informed and must reading."

Bonus:  An "epic comment" (Goldfarb's description) by Asher Steinberg on Goldfarb's post; it begins:

I want to apologize at the outset for leaving a comment about a third as long as your post [ed.: a very long post!], but as you say, these are interesting times and like Professor Hessick I am afraid that statutory interpretation is about to fall into fundamental error over the course you suggest. I will just focus on your findings on humans carrying objects, which seems like an object case for this approach. None of those findings do anything for me, for a few reasons. ...