Forensic Linguistics

Welcome to the world of forensic linguistics (FL)!

I use the term "FL" as an umbrella term for anytime language is involved with the law, synonymous with what some people call "legal linguistics" and "language and law". However, I recognize the differences between analyzing language evidence and playing an active role in an investigation/trial vs examining courtroom discourse and police interviews vs researching the language of a specific law, and so on. But quite often these areas overlap (i.e., the meaning of a law can become the subject of a lawsuit and the discourse of a police interview can be subject of a criminal trial, etc.), so I like a cover-all term that is still narrow enough to group these things together. FL is concerned with applying principles and methodologies of linguistics and linguistic analyses (i.e., phonetics, phonology, lexis, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics (language change and variation, identity, interaction, etc.), discourse analysis, register/genre variation, corpus linguistics, etc.) to forensic/legal data. Thus, forensic linguists are first and foremost, linguists.

Within the field, Forensic phonetics (FP) or forensic speech science (dealing more with spoken data) has been treated as a more separate area. However, I think FL and FP have too much overlap to keep as distinct fields and am an advocate for increasing the relationship between researchers and practitioners in these fields.

I like to try to group applications of FL into 4 categories. But note that these are not mutually exclusive and not exhaustive--just a way I like to organize things (I also include FP applications to illustrate the overlap between the fields):

• Language Evidence: Anytime language is used in an investigation, criminal trials, or civil disputes. For example, authorship analysis (who is the more likely author of a disputed text, such as a threatening letter, a ransom note, a suicide note, an extortion email, etc.), acoustic speaker comparisons, linguistic demographic profiling, contract disputes, pragmatic/contextual meanings (i.e., on undercover wiretaps, prison phone call recordings), trademark disputes, confessions, consent, language analysis for the determination of origin (LADO) in asylum cases, etc. Here, the forensic linguist's role is aiding an investigation or the trier of fact. This category is what some scholars view as "forensic linguistics".

• Language Crimes: Crimes that require language, such as defamation, threats, bribes, extortion, solicitation, perjury, plagiarism, etc.

• Legal Discourse: The actual language used in courtrooms, police interviews, 911 calls, crisis negotiations, the use of interpreters in legal contexts, etc.

• Language of the Law: The language of laws/legislature, interpretations of legal texts, Miranda warnings/police cautions, jury instructions, plain meanings/language, etc.

By definition, forensic linguistics is interdisciplinary and I encourage collaboration with other fields, such as psychology, sociology, criminology, law, computer science, etc.

Check out some FL resources or contact me for more info!