The Daily Universe: “The Constitution is America’s central legal document. However, it was written a long time ago, and language has since evolved. Changing language can make the law difficult for lawyers and judges to interpret. What does it really mean to “bear arms?” How should readers understand the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors?” BYU Law created a database to help answer questions like this. This database is called the Corpus of Founding Era American English, also known as COFEA. “Corpus” refers to a collection of written texts on a particular subject. The corpus holds founding-era documents that can be used by legal professionals for free as a tool to make educated legal decisions. BYU linguistics professor Mark Davies creates various corpora for the linguistics department and was involved in the beginning stages of the corpus. “We have all these words in the Constitution — words and phrases that, 200-250 years later, we don’t really know what they meant at that time. We can’t go in a time travel machine … to go back 240 years, but what we can do is scoop in hundreds of millions worth of text from that time and say, oh well, when people were using a word or phrase, they were using it in this context,” Davies said.
- The Corpus of Founding Era American English can be found at lawcorpus.byu.edu.