What is Forensic linguistics?
Forensic linguistics involves the application of a linguist’s knowledge of how language is structured and used in legal contexts. These contexts may include crime and policing, judicial procedures, disputes in law, security investigations etc.
The forensic linguist can be asked to analyse and provide expert opinion on legal ‘documents’ (written, verbal or electronic texts) by examining the meaning of words, phrases, clauses, paragraphs, in legal, personal, and commercial communication. Some examples include copyright infringement, plagiarism, threats, disputed wills, contracts.
The forensic linguist can be asked to analyse from a whole text perspective and provide expert opinion in an area referred to as ‘forensic discourse analysis’. This involves a thorough analysis of the style, word choice, spelling, punctuation, rhetorical strategies and generic (genre) structure of written, verbal or electronic texts. It may include texts which include non-language elements, such as images, sketch drawings, and symbols, or the use of gestures in combination with language (referred to as ‘multimodal’ texts). These texts can be anonymous, disputed, or forged communications, and interactions between law enforcement and the public (policing). More recently it is being used in counter-terrorism contexts.
The outcomes of these investigations may result in the preparation and giving of written and oral evidence.
Forensic Linguistic Consulting Cases
Forensic Linguistic Analysis Case History (redactions for client privacy reasons)
2009 – [redacted] Police Department, Ohio, US. Internal Affairs Investigation. Questioned authorship analysis: completed.
2010 – Mr. G [redacted]. Legal proceedings for age discrimination complaint – analysis of court-filed documents. Legal document statement analysis. Viability analysis completed: negative.
2011 – NSW Government [redacted). Questioned authorship analysis: completed.
2011 – Australian [redacted] Clubs, Queensland. Questioned authorship analysis: completed.
2012 – Mr. P. [redacted]. Questioned authorship analysis viability: not viable
2012 – National [redacted] Dental Practitioners. Legal document statement analysis: completed.
2013 – Mr. D. [redacted]. Coercive/threatening question analysis: completed.
2014 – Sydney [redacted] Health. Questioned authorship analysis viability completed: not viable
2014 – [redacted] International Pty Limited. Questioned authorship analysis viability completed: not viable.
2014 – [redacted] Police Force. Lexical usage analysis in ERISP transcript analysis; Viability analysis: completed. Case not proceeded.
2015 – [redacted] Pty. Limited., on behalf of [redacted] University. Questioned authorship analysis: completed.
2015/16 – NSW Police Force English Language Assessment Project (see Major Projects below)
2017 – ACT [redacted] Medical. Questioned authorship corpus analysis: completed.
2017 – Mr. CS. [redacted]. Questioned authorship threatening letter analysis viability: not viable
Major Projects (consultancy on behalf of UNSW Unisearch)
March 2015 – April 2016. NSW Police Force English Language Assessment Project.
Aim: Investigating impeded oral/aural communicative competence in English in stress inducing situations.
Responsible for the delivery of:
- Systematic Literature Review: relevant research on Aviation, Medical Emergency, Policing contexts.
- Qualitative Data Analysis Report: content analysis of data on relevant police officers (internal sources)
- Review and Benchmarking of Police Recruitment Processes Report: Interviews with the Recruitment Branch (Parramatta HQ) and benchmarking with members of ANZPAA.
- Police Interviews Report: Interviews with Police Academy Academics, Weapons and Tactics Trainers (WTTU) at the Goulburn Campus; Interviews with Educational Training Officers (EDOs) and Field Training and Assessment Officers (FTAOs) at various Local Area Commands (LACs).
Professional Development Cases
Strategy Unit: Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command (CT&ST)
Police researchers’ professional development: the Strategy Unit in the CT&ST Command researches and evaluates local, national and global trends to provide via its extensive reports an awareness of current and future environments. These reports need to cover all the relevant sources of information, and be succinct and add value to the various threat assessments discussed amongst the agencies. The services provided here were interactive sessions for the researchers focussing on advanced research literacies for producing coherent reports on collected intelligence, and associated advanced writing strategies necessary for effective written communication.
Negotiators Unit (State Protection Group): Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command (CT&ST)
Police negotiators’ professional development: the Negotiators Unit in the CT&ST Command provides extraordinary response to the resolution of high risk situations on a domestic and counter terrorism level. The services provided were interactive workshop sessions for the negotiators attending Phase 3 Negotiation Training Courses. These sessions (offered at several different courses) focussed on a negotiation case study which the Negotiators Unit uses to demonstrate and discuss both tactical and communicational issues. The specific foci in these sessions were on active listening, crisis negotiation stages and critical moments, and the role of contextual issues in an unfolding negotiation.
Security Management Unit (SMU): Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command (CT&ST)
Police security officers’ professional development: the Security Management Unit (SMU) in the CT&ST Command provides a protective security service to selected NSW Police and State Government complexes, ensuring an overall safe and secure working environment for personnel, property and information. In that role the SMU officers need to provide daily intra-service reports, referred to as a Standard Report or a “Godfrey Report”. These reports need to succinctly and clearly provide information following a basic IBCR format: Issue, Background, Comment, and Recommendation. The services provided here were interactive sessions for the SMU Coordinators, focussing on advanced writing strategies necessary for effective written communication in the IBCR format.
The Corporate Affairs Division of Boral Corporation requested professional development sessions on excellence in written and spoken communication through the Executive Development Unit at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). After a needs analysis the services provided here were interactive sessions for various senior staff members which focussed on general and advanced spoken and written communication in a business context; business letter writing and e-Mail ‘netiquette’; punctuation: commas, colons, semicolons, quotation marks; and discussion and analysis of sample Boral communications (very lively!).
Not-for-Profit Sector Management Development Program
The Executive Development Unit at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) advertised and ran professional development courses on writing applications for funding and grants for managers in organisations in Not-for-Profit (NFP) organisations. The services provided here, as part of a staged four-day intensive program, were interactive sessions on general and advanced spoken and written communication skills relevant to grant application writing. The relevant skills covered were then applied to the preparation of an actual grant proposal.