About this Project

Words and structures change their meaning over time. The text of laws, however, does not. These two facts make it difficult for judges and others, from the U.S. Supreme Court to the American people, to understand and interpret texts such as the Constitution. Current trends in legal interpretation, in particular the originalist insistence on original public meaning as the primary determinant of a law’s interpretation, make an appropriate historical linguistic understanding urgent – e.g., what did “bear arms” or “the recess of the Senate” mean in 1789? Just as important, how can we determine this? While the Supreme Court has relied heavily on eighteenth-century dictionaries in deciding recent constitutional questions, advances in theoretical and computational linguistics, as well as vast new corpora of English, make it possible for us to determine for the first time with precision what lexical shifts have occurred over the past two centuries, how these shifts have affected both the diachronic semantics of words and phrases, and their syntactic distributions. The results of such inquiries can and should have direct application to questions of statutory and constitutional interpretation. Our project aims to help create a new methodology at the intersection of law and linguistics, yielding results and models that will change the way legal interpretation is conducted. As part of this project, we intend to develop useable online tools and guides for other researchers and judges to conduct such inquires on their own, and to disseminate these insights and to stimulate cross-disciplinary dialogue between leading scholars of linguistic semantics and of legal interpretation.

News

Two Neubauer Collegium Principal Investigators awarded Named Professorships

August 16, 2016

Chris Kennedy, project investigator for the Neubauer Collegium project Subjectivity in Language and Thought has been named the William H. Colvin Professor in Linguistics and the College. Jason Merchant, project investigator for the Neubauer Collegium project Historical Semantics and Legal Interpretation, has been named the first Lorna Puttkammer Straus Professor in Linguistics and the College. 

-- UChicago News

New Neubauer Collegium projects to explore complex human questions

February 9, 2016

The Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society has selected 12 new collaborative research projects that unite leading scholars from the University of Chicago and beyond to explore novel approaches to complex human questions.

-- UChicago News by Susie Allen

Neubauer Collegium celebrates opening of new home at 5701 S. Woodlawn

April 21, 2015

In a milestone for the ambitious research initiative, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society celebrated the opening of its permanent home at 5701 S. Woodlawn Ave. on April 20 with remarks by University of Chicago leaders and a panel discussion featuring Neubauer Collegium Faculty Fellows.

Calendar

There are no events associated with this project yet.