Corpus linguistics at Michigan Supreme Court

I was reminded this week* of something I saw last year and failed miserably to put on the blog. So here it is now.

In the case People v Harris, the Michigan Supreme Court became the first state supreme court in America to embrace corpus linguistics. […]

Professor Gordon Smith, now Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University (home of several well-known corpora curated by Mark Davies), wrote in June 2016:

The consolidated cases relate to an Act which “bars the use in a subsequent criminal proceeding of all ‘information’ provided by a law enforcement officer under threat of any employment sanction. […]

While the act does not distinguish between true and false statements, the court used corpus analysis to investigate whether ‘information’ must be true.” […]

The majority opinion referred to corpus linguistics: “Keeping in mind that we must interpret the word ‘information’ as used in the [Act] ‘according to the common and approved usage of the language’, we apply a tool that can aid in the discovery of ‘how particular words or phrases are actually used in written or spoken English’.

To read more, see Professor Smith’s analysis of the various judges’ observations on corpora and law over at The Conglomerate.

It would be interesting to hear your comments about this – including about the Court’s choice of corpus (COCA).

 

* by the ever modest John Williams (see yesterday’s post, one of John’s many awesome projects, along with COBUILD dictionaries).

One thought on “Corpus linguistics at Michigan Supreme Court

  1. I use the COCA. It was presented in an ATA webinar on corpora, is free, seems to be accurate regarding U.S. English, so seems like a good choice for a U.S. court. I agree with the dissent, though, on what it reveals about the word “information”!

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