IAFL: The International Association of Forensic Linguists

Forensic Linguistics

Forensic linguists are involved in many areas that relate to crime, both solving crime and absolving people wrongly accused of committing crimes. Some of these areas of research and expertise include:

- voice identification (for instance, determining whether the voice on a threatening tape recording was that of the defendant; sometimes also called forensic phonetics)

- author identification (determining who wrote a particular text by comparing it to known writing samples of a suspect; sometimes also called forensic stylistics)

- discourse analysis (analyzing the structure of a writing or spoken utterance, often coverly recorded, to help determine issues such as who is introducing topics or whether a suspect is agreeing to engage in a criminal conspiracy)

- linguistic proficiency (did a suspect understand the Miranda warning or police caution?)

- dialectology (determining which dialect of a language a person speaks, usually to show that a defendant has a different dialect from that on an incriminating tape recording. As opposed to voice identification, which analyzes the acoustic qualities of the voice, dialectology uses linguistic features to accomplish similar goals)

- "linguistic origin analysis" (this is my term for the process of trying to determine what a person's native language is, often for purposes of granting or denying applications for political asylum. A more common term is "language analysis," but that term is overly broad, it seems to me. Note that linguistic origin analysis is very similar to what we might call forensic dialectology)

- "linguistic veracity analysis" (again, I think I may have invented this term, but it refers to various linguistically-inspired methods for determining whether a speaker or writer was being truthful)

© IAFL 2007