Ethan Herenstein, ‘The Faulty Frequency Hypothesis’

… In other words, Justice Lee and Mouritsen’s application of corpus linguistics depends on the premise that, where an ambiguous term retains two plausible meanings, the ordinary meaning of the term (and the one that ought to control) is the more frequently used meaning of the term. Call this the Frequency Hypothesis … This Essay identifies and explores another, more fundamental reason to doubt the Frequency Hypothesis: A word might be used more frequently in one sense than another for reasons that have little to do with the ordinary meaning of that word. Specifically, a word’s frequency will not necessarily reflect the ‘sense of a word [or] phrase that is most likely implicated in a given linguistic context’, but will instead, at least partly, reflect the prevalence or newsworthiness of the underlying phenomenon that the term denotes. Whereas Hessick’s critique of the Frequency Hypothesis might be limited to the criminal context, my critique pertains to the entire enterprise. Accordingly, I am less optimistic than are Justice Lee and Mouritsen about corpus linguistics’s place in statutory interpretation … (more)

Ethan J Herenstein, ‘The Faulty Frequency Hypothesis: Difficulties in Operationalizing Ordinary Meaning Through Corpus Linguistics’, Stanford Law Review Online December 2017.

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