Corpora and the Second Amendment

This page is a guide to the series of posts here and on Language Log in which I am examining the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in light of newly available corpus data. Specifically, this page provides

  • links to all the posts in the series,
  • information about the corpora that are providing the data that is discussed in these posts
  • a link to the search results on which my analysis will be based, which I am making available to enable interested persons to evaluate my analysis and to make it possible for people to perform their own analyses, without having to grapple with the corpus interface, and
  • links to my paper and blog posts discussing the approach to word meaning that my analysis will draw on.

This page will also provide links to significant writings by others about using corpus linguistics to analyze the Second Amendment.

The posts in the series.

The coming corpus-based reexamination of the Second Amendment
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: Responding to Weisberg on the meaning of “bear arms”
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: Weisberg responds to me; plus update re OED
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: Preliminaries and caveats
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: Heller
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: “keep” (part 1)
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: “keep” (part 2)
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear”
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: “arms”
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear arms” (part 1), plus a look at “the right of the people”
[LLog, LAWnLing]
Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear arms” (part 2)”
[LLog, LAWnLing]


The downloadable search results are available, in the form of Excel spreadsheets, here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the “Download” button at the top right of the screen, rather than, e.g., right-clicking on the file.

The corpora. The corpus data that my posts will discuss is from two of the three corpora that comprise the BYU Law Corpora: COFEA (the Corpus of Founding Era American English) and COEME (the Corpus of Early American English). These corpora are a project of the BYU Law School, and they have been created in order to provide resources for doing research regarding the original meaning of the United States Constitution. They have been in the works since roughly 2015, and beta versions were made available to the public in early May 2018.

For information about the corpora, see “The BYU Law corpora”  [LLog, LAWnLing]. Both of the corpora can be accessed here.

My approach to word meaning. My corpus analysis will draw on an approach to word meaning that has arisen out of corpus linguistics, and more particularly out of the use of corpus analysis in lexicography. You can learn about that approach in my article A Lawyer’s Introduction to Meaning in the Framework of Corpus Linguistics, which appears in the Brigham Young University Law Review. For a very brief summary of the article, see my post “Meaning in the framework of corpus linguistics.” And for a case study in which this approach leads to results that are surprising (but that will seem obvious in retrospect), see my post “The semantics of sleeping in railway stations.”

Hat tip to Dennis Baron, who was the first person to look up bear arms in the COFEA and COEME; see his comment to my Language Log post announcing the opening of the two corpora for beta testing (scroll to the bottom),  and his subsequent op-ed in the Washington Post. It was Baron’s op-ed that inspired me to undertake this look at the Second Amendment.

Work by other authors

Baron, Dennis, “Corpus Evidence Illuminates the Meaning of Bear Arms,” Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly (2019).

Blackman, Josh & James C. Phillips, “Corpus Linguistics and the Second Amendment,” Harvard Law Review Blog (Aug. 7, 2018).

LaCroix, Allison L., “Historical Semantics and the Meaning of the Second Amendment,The Panorama (Aug. 3, 2018).

Updated August 8, 2018.