Corpus Linguistics
& Bearing Arms

By Robert B. Young, MD. August 31, 2021

Digital “corpus linguistics” is an old idea using a new tool in interpreting the meaning of documents. It uses deep data searches for words and phrases in documents recorded through the centuries to try to glean from context accurate understanding of their import.

From Dennis Baron at the Duke Center for Firearms Law: “Corpus linguistics, which some hail as better than dictionaries for legal interpretation, allows us to access and analyze vast swaths of digitized text going back to the fourteenth century.” (Note the word “some”, which is not referenced.)

Further clarifying the Center’s thinking, “… it’s not clear that the [Second A]mendment ever had a single shared meaning, or if it did, whether that meaning is recoverable… . The best we can hope for when investigating any older text is to examine how it was discussed around the time it was written and to use historical sources to glean the meaning of any difficult or ambiguous words or phrases. And even so, there’s no guarantee that a reasonable reader in 1791 would interpret the Second Amendment the same way as their equally-reasonable neighbor. When the Supreme Court said in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that it had determined the original public meaning of the Second Amendment, its reading, like any linguistic interpretation, involved both an examination of the text and a certain amount of guesswork.”

The DCFL contends that because nearly all the examples they find of the phrase “bear arms” in the English language are used to refer to military conduct, the Second Amendment must only guarantee “the people” the right to “bear arms” in the service of the state (i.e., a state-appointed militia). .....


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