Building on the 2016 inaugural Law and Corpus Linguistics Conference, the 2017 BYU Law Review Symposium, “Law & Corpus Linguistics,” was held Friday, February 3 at BYU Law School. The conference brought together legal scholars, prominent corpus linguistics scholars, and judges who have employed corpus linguistics analysis in their decisions.
Corpus linguistics scholar Mark Davies and socio-linguistics scholar William Eggington, both of BYU, joined Associate Justice Thomas Lee of the Utah Supreme Court in a panel to discuss the application of corpus linguistics to the law. They discussed the applications and the limitations that jurists sometimes face in attempting to use corpus linguistics in their analysis and the challenges of applying one field to another. “There are ways to think like a linguist and there are ways to think like lawyers,” Eggington said. “Sometimes the two don’t meet so well.” Participants and panelists discussed methods and means through which corpus linguistics scholars and lawyers can work together more effectively so that corpus linguistics can be more effectively applied in legal settings, including ideas for developing tools specifically based on legal corpora.
According to organizer and BYU Law Professor Carolina Núñez, the conference this year provided participants “opportunities to develop the methodology in the context of legal interpretation, employ the methodology in specific interpretation problems in participants’ fields of study, and to engage in discussion about these topics with other interested scholars.”
BYU Law is pioneering the study of law and corpus linguistics, a methodology for understanding the meaning of words by analyzing naturally occurring language in large collections of texts called "corpora." The methodology may be usefully applied to interpreting statutes and more effectively interpreting the legislature’s meaning in using certain words. For the past four years, BYU Law has offered the only course on law and corpus linguistics in the United States.