On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in FCC v. AT&T that corporations are not entitled to a right of "personal privacy," even if corporations can be construed as "persons." To reach this decision, they were aided by an amicus brief by Neal Goldfarb that presented corpus evidence on the types of nouns that the adjective "personal" typically modifies. Here on Language Log, Mark Liberman posted about the case on the day the decision was released, and now I have a piece for The Atlantic discussing the use of corpus analysis in the courtroom.
Linguists have introduced a new wave of data-crunching methods to answer knotty questions about language use, and a decision handed down by the Supreme Court this week reveals that the legal world is taking notice. For too long, judges and attorneys have relied on scattershot, impressionistic evidence to back up linguistic claims, even though language is often central to judicial decision-making. New high-tech tools for analyzing common usage promise a welcome antidote, but there is a danger in expecting them to cut through the inherent slipperiness of words.
Read the rest here.