The task of understanding the meaning of the words and phrases that constitute legal texts has never been more urgent. The Constitution includes the following phrases, all controversial but none self evident: "keep and bear arms"; "the recess"; "cruel and unusual punishment"; "ex post facto"; and "gifts, emoluments, offices or titles." The leading modes of constitutional interpretation—originalism, textualism, and common law constitutionalism—rely on distinct theories of meaning, but they do not agree on which meanings are relevant or even on what "meaning" means. Recent advances in theoretical and computational linguistics, as well as vast new corpora of American and English usage, make possible the precise identification of the lexical shifts that have occurred over the past two centuries. These tools also enable scholars to determine how these shifts have affected both the diachronic semantics of words and phrases and their syntactic distributions. The results of such inquiries have direct application to questions of constitutional and statutory interpretation. This conference brings together linguists, legal scholars, and historians who are applying linguistic techniques to questions of meaning in law.
Program details and RSVP: https://neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu/events/uc/historical_semantics_and_legal_interpretation_applications/