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07/15/2019

Neal Goldfarb on Corpus Linguistics and "Bear Arms"
Michael Ramsey

At LAWnLinguistics, Neal Goldfarb: Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear arms” (part 3).  From the introduction: 

As I’ve previously explained, the court held in Heller that at the time of the Framing, bear arms ordinarily meant ‘wear, bear, or carry … upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.’ In my last post, I discussed the uses of bear arms in the corpus that I thought were at least arguably consistent with that that meaning. Out of the 531 uses that I identified as being relevant, there were only 26 in that category—less than 5% of the total.

In this post I’ll discuss the other 95%.

As I’ll explain, I think that all of those uses would most likely have been understood as conveying the idiomatic sense relating to the military: ‘serve in the militia,’ ‘fight in a war,’ and so on.

That reading of the data shouldn’t be surprising, since it’s consistent with the views of those who have previously written about the corpus data, and also of people who looked at usage data before the corpora I’ve used were in existence. (For credit where credit is due, see the discussion at the end of this post). But if all I wanted to do in this post was to count up how often bear arms was used in a military sense, the post would be over by now.

What I’ve done in addition to that is to try to identify patterns of recurring usage and to organize the data on the basis of those patterns. That process yielded insights into the ways in which bear arms was used in late-18th century America, and those insights were in turn useful in trying to figure out how bear arms was most likely understood as it was used in the Second Amendment. However, the latter  issue will have to wait until my next post. The focus here is on examining the range of ways in which bear arms was used. ...