Summer 2003

Introduction to

Forensic Linguistic Methods

LING 199


Who wrote it? Was he or she lying? Did someone else change the speakerís words? Increasingly, linguists are asked to help courts and law enforcement personnel resolve problems of authorship related to threatening letters, suicide notes, plagiarized texts, patent fraud cases, disputed police interview records, etc.

The emerging field of forensic linguistics uses linguistic methods of text analysis to reveal evidence of a authorís identify in the words he or she leaves behind. This course is a non-technical introduction to these methods and their use for profiling speakers and writers, identifying plagiarism, investigating claims that statements were falsified, and telling the difference between truth and lies.

We will examine how consistent, distinctive individual characteristics of writing style, grammatical style, and lexical and textual patterns may be useful for identifying an unknown author, with examples drawn from real cases. Our discussion will explore differences in spoken and written English, varieties of English, text measurement and basic text statistics, issues related to transcription, the analysis of errors, and issues related to non-native speakers of English. Finally, we will critically examine the limitations of these methods for ascribing authorship to a particular individual and assess their utility for criminal investigation and conviction.

This course would be useful for students preparing for the legal profession and law enforcement, linguists, future jurists, and anyone who wants to develop a better understanding of the linguistic methods employed in criminal and civil legal cases. No previous linguistics classes are required.

Class format combines lectures, often with examples from real cases, plus hands-on practical exercises. Grading is based on class participation, knowledge quizzes, and a final text analysis project.


LING 199 Sp St Forensic Ling CRN: 42357

Time: 10:00-12:20 MUWH

Class meets from 23-JUN-2003 to 18-JUL-2003