Forensic Linguistics


Expert Witness

  • What is an Expert and how do they expres their opinion?
    • The Expert
      • Standard of proof- what the courts need to know 
        • The expert in civil cases: more likely than not 
        • The expert in criminal cases: higher standard of proof, established beyond reasonable doubt
      • Expertise 
        • Does linguist have knowledge of information beyond common sense?
      • Validity 
        • Does linguist have evidence which is precisely relevant to the case?
      • Reliability
        • Is linguistic information/evidence based on scientific method?
        • Can it be tested and repeated? 
  • Expressing Expert opinions
    • How certain they are/likelihood
    • Expressing opinions semantically: very likely means different things to different people
    • Expressing opinions statistically: probability in numerical terms 
    • Most experts use a combination 
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Position Statement

  • Used as a model for all phoneticians
    • All should express opinions in the same way 
  • Consistency outcomes 
    • Consistent 
    • Not consistent 
    • No decision 
  • 5 point scale for distinctiveness
    • 5: exceptionally distinctive - possibility of this combination of features being shared by other speakers is considered to be remote 
    • 4: highly distinctive 
    • 3: distinctive 
    • 2: moderately distinctive 
    • 1: not distinctive 
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Forensic Linguistic Experts and Expertise

  • Morphology: Shuy 2002
    • Mcdonalds vs Quality Inns International 
      • 1987: McSleep
      • Mc Language Campaign 
        • Claiming morphological process 
        • Own process of adding Mc 
    • Shuys involvement: working on the side of Quality Inns 
      • Morpheme Mc in common use - unconnected to McDonalds 
      • Morpheme Mc has come to be used productively alone 
    • Mc Donalds response: looked at peoples perception of the phoneme 
    • Mc Donalds won 
  • Syntax: Shuy 2008
    • 'Woodroast', 'The Original Shelly's Woodroast and Design', 'Original Woodroast Cookign and Design' - challenged use of two seperate words: 'Wood Roasted'
    • Seen as a unique style of method of cooking
    • Completed slot and filler analysis
    • Shelly's used 'Woodroast' as a style of food, whereas other chains used it  as a method of cooking 'Wood Roasted'  
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Forensic Linguistic Experts and Expertise

  • Pragmatics: Prince 1981 
    • 58 year old cement worker sued insurance company 
    • Responses to questions on insurance form
    • Mans condition: overweight, high cholestral, back ache 
    • 'Have you any impairments? Loss of sight or hearing? Loss of arm or leg? Are you crippled or deformed? If so explain...'
    • When he went to claim, they denied due to him failing to state his health problems 
    • Ruling agreed with the complaint 
  • Sociolinguistics 
    • Eades 2005: Asylum Seekers - a refugee is a person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country or his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country 
    • Language Analysis: working out where somebody is from 
    • The way a person speaks contains clues about their origins 
    • Eades Observations - 
      • Overgeneralised and erroneous assumptions and practices: interviews 
      • Making political and/or bureaucratic decisions on the basis of primarily social information; poor reasoning in analysis
      • Choice of interview language; poor transcripts
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Plagiarism and Forensic Authorship Analysis

  • What is the study of authorship? 
    • Solan and Tiersma 2004 
      • Various approaches which attempt to use linguists to identify the authors of documents by the style of their writing
      • All write things differently 
        • Distinctive styles of writing 
  • What texts have been examined? 
    • Suicide notes, anonymous letters, mobile phone messages, contemporaneous records of police interviews and confession statements, plagiarism and collusion, threats, blackmail, fabricated wills
  • Pattern evidence 
    • What kinds of patterns are signficant and reliable? 
    • Are these patterns detectable or countable in specific ways that can be taught, learned and processed by humans or machines? 
    • What amounts of data are required to get significant and reliable patterns?
    • Are there other conditions, besides quantity, which affect the recovery or significant and reliable patterns from data? 
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Approaches to Authorship Analysis

  • Stylometry 
    • Linguistic fnigerprints; the stylome; relative frequency of function/grammatical words; word frequency distributions - computational modelling - needs a lot of text - also would rely on calculating population distributions which might not be possible - founded on idea of idiolect 
  • Stylistic Approaches
    • Series selection between possible choices reflects a variety of individual and societal influences - statistical occurence of stylistic choices - moves away from idea of idiolect but is based on individuals past choices 
  • Vocabulary Approaches
    • Identifies core lexical items and once-only words combined with corpus analysis 
  • Forensic Authorship Analysis 
    • Grant 2008
      • In the forensic field the analyst must be able to say why the features they describe might distinguish between two authors in general and why they distinguish between the particular authors of the case 
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Markers of Authorship

  • Character Level 
    • Single characters, punctuation markers, character level n-grams 
  • Word level 
    • Functions words, content words, word level -grams, lexical semantics, lexical overlap, vocabulary richness, average word length 
  • Sentence level 
    • Part of speech tagging, tag level n-grams, anaphoric dependencies, marked and unmarked constituent structures, sentence type, average sentence length 
  • Text level 
    • Text length, paragraph length, discourse strategies 
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