The Use of Corpus Linguistics in Legal Interpretation

Posted: 4 Feb 2021

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Date Written: January 2021


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 review provides an introduction to this nascent movement, which is generally referred to as Law and Corpus Linguistics (LCL). After briefly summarizing LCL's origin and development, I situate LCL within legal interpretation by discussing the legal concept of ordinary meaning, which establishes the framework within which LCL operates. Next, I situate LCL within linguistics by identifying the subfields that are most relevant to LCL. I 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 provide evidence of how words and other expressions are ordinarily understood. I go on to discuss linguistic issues that arise from the use of corpus linguistics in disputes that involve lexical ambiguity and categorization. Finally, I point out some challenges that the growth of LCL will present for both legal professionals and linguists.

Suggested Citation

Goldfarb, Neal, The Use of Corpus Linguistics in Legal Interpretation (January 2021). Annual Review of Linguistics, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 473-491, 2021, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 473-491, Available at SSRN: or

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