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Historical Semantics and Legal Interpretation: Applications

04.13.2018 – 04.14.2018

Event Summary

Photo by Max Herman

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 lexical shifts over time. They also enable scholars to determine how these shifts have affected both the diachronic semantics of words and phrases and their syntactic distributions. Such inquiries have direct application to questions of constitutional and statutory interpretation. This conference brought together linguists, legal scholars, and historians who are applying linguistic techniques to questions of meaning in law.


Jill Anderson (University of Connecticut)

Dennis Baron (University of Illinois)

Richard Fallon (Harvard University)

Tammy Gales (Hofstra University)

Jonathan Gienapp (Stanford University)

Stefan Th. Gries (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Alison LaCroix (University of Chicago)

Jason Merchant (University of Chicago)

John Mikhail (Georgetown University)

Brian Slocum (University of the Pacific)

Larry Solan (Brooklyn Law School)

Larry Solum (Georgetown University)