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University of Michigan Law School

State and Local Government Law

Ambiguity

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Corpus Linguistics: Misfire Or More Ammo For The Ordinary - Meaning Canon?, John D. Ramer Nov 2017

Corpus Linguistics: Misfire Or More Ammo For The Ordinary - Meaning Canon?, John D. Ramer

Michigan Law Review

Scholars and judges have heralded corpus linguistics—the study of language through collections of spoken or written texts—as a novel tool for statutory interpretation that will help provide an answer in the occasionally ambiguous search for “ordinary meaning” using dictionaries. In the spring of 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court became the first to use corpus linguistics in a majority opinion. The dissent also used it, however, and the two opinions reached different conclusions. In the first true test for corpus linguistics, the answer seemed to be just as ambiguous as before.

This result calls into question the utility of ...