The US Supreme Court recently decided a case in which language was discussed on the basis of corpora. The question was about the words person and personal. The decision was FCC v. AT&T Inc. (PDF file), decided on March 1. This is a slip opinion, which means it has not yet been officially published. It has a headnote, which they call a syllabus. The situation was that AT&T Inc. claimed that as it was a person (all corporations are persons), it could rely on the right of personal privacy. Language evidence was presented to show that it does not follow from the noun that the related adjective has the same meaning, particularly in compounds.
In fact, “personal” is often used to mean precisely the opposite of business-related: We speak of personal expenses and business expenses, personal life and work life, personal opinion and a company’s view. Dictionary definitions also suggest that “personal” does not ordinarily relate to artificial “persons” like corporations.
I can't help feeling that the Supreme Court would have come to this conclusion even without the language evidence. It seems pretty obvious to me. But the definition of person has been expanded in recent years, and at all events the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found in favour of AT&T.
We disagree. Adjectives typically reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns, but not always. Sometimes they acquire distinct meanings of their own. The noun “crab” refers variously to a crustacean and a type of apple, while the related adjective “crabbed” can refer to handwriting that is “difficult to read,” Webster’s Third New Interna-tional Dictionary 527 (2002); “corny” can mean “using familiar and stereotyped formulas believed to appeal to the unsophisticated,” id ...Zum vollständigen Artikel