Forensic Linguistics: Can
Words Help Solve
a Crime?
Margaret van Naerssen, Ph.D.
Smithsonian Institution
September 21, 2005
Forensic Sciences
September 21, 2005
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What I’ll Cover
• What Forensic Linguistics is /is Not
• How several types of cases might be
approached and
• Provide examples from various areas
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Stereotypes
Not Study of Dead Languages
Not Speaker of Many Languages
www.un.org
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An International Leader in
Forensic Linguistics
Analyzed
• Taped conversations
• Taped speeches
• Taped interviews
• Written documents
Consulted on 500+ cases
Testified as expert witness
• 52 times
• criminal & civil cases
• 26 states
• Impeachment trials in US
Senate & House of Repres.
• International Criminal Tribunal
trials
September 21, 2005
Roger Shuy, Ph.D
Prof Emeritus, retired
Georgetown Univ.
Now in Montana
Sociolinguistics
http://www.rogershuy.com
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An International Leader in
Forensic Linguistics
• International Association
of Forensic Linguists,
founding president
• Forensic Linguistics: The
International Journal of
Language and Law,
founding editor
• Expert witness reports on
-150 cases
-3 terrorist trials, Northern Ire.
-academic plagiarism, Hong Kong
-twice in Court of Appeal
1998 Derek Bentley Appeal
guilty verdict overturned
after 46 years
September 21, 2005
Malcolm Coulthard
Prof. of English Language
& Linguistics
University of Birmingham, UK
Discourse Analysis
(written, spoken)
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Linguistics?
Scientific study of
human language
from various perspectives
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Language As a Product of
Human Evolution
•
•
•
•
Evolution of relevant anatomical parts
Survival & social needs
Long-term language changes, language death
Long-term impact of environment & culture
Rudolph Zallinger, ASCENT OF MAN from “Early Man” (1965). Courtesy of TimeLife books.
http://www.learner.org/channel/courses/biology/archive/images/1678.html
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Language as a Window
into the Mind
Structured system of mental representations
• Cognitive development, language & thought
• Language development: first & additional languages
• Study of meaning (semantics)
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Language as a Means of
Communication &
Social Interaction
written
oral
non-verbal
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Applied Linguistics
Application of
theories & knowledge from linguistics
to help solve problems
in the real world
Draws from other academic
disciplines including anthropology,
psychology, sociology, education,
testing & statistics, etc.
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Forensic Linguistics
can be broadly defined as the interface
between
language & the law
in judicial & law enforcement settings
language
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law
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Ballistics
• targets
• projectiles
• residue
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Forensic Entomology
• types of insects
• time/ life cycle
• quantity
http://folk.uio.no/mostarke/forens_ent/forensic_en
tomology.html
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Looking for Patterns
Like experts in other Forensic
Sciences--Linguists look for patterns and
inconsistencies in patterns
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Linguistic Resources
Analysis of recorded
speech
Conversation analysis
using transcripts
Language testing
and analysis
Other analyses
1. What tools are available?
2. Am I the right person to do this?
3. Do I need more language samples & related
information?
Is it appropriate for me to collect this?
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Conversation Analysis
• Examine the turns in a conversation
• Who? says what? when?
• Who introduces a new topic? How frequently is
new topic re-introduced by same person?
• How does the other person respond?
• Do the speakers appear understand each other?
• Do speakers overlap?
• What is the speaker doing with language?
and so on….
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THE LEGAL QUESTION
Did the Russian immigrant,
Mr. K,
lie in his insurance claim interview &
in his claim application
in order to collect money
for roof damage repairs resulting
from a snow storm
on February 5?
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Perjury?
Insurance Fraud?
4 Grounds for Perjury
1. Did the person understand the
questions?
2. Did the person intend to
deceive?
3. Did the person actually try to
deceive?
4. Was the deception related to
another charge in the case?
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Direct Linguistic Evidence Needed
of oral interactions?
Available?
No direct evidence
Transcript of insurance
Interview ***
Handwritten police
reports of 2 home visits
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Matching Patterns
oral interaction : Written records
insurance interview
transcript of
insurance interview
language testing interview
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Findings
1.
No significant differences in patterns of
English use across testing & insurance
interviews.
2.
Limited control of the past tense
(understanding & speaking) –only simple past
3.
If specific time not mentioned, he seemed
to guess the time was Feb. 5, the day of
the snowstorm damage.
Have you ever…?
While you were living in the house…?
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Common Q-ing Strategy
Earlier
?
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
FEB 5
OK
Later + Future
?
Q1
Q2
Q3
Q4
Q5
Q6
Q7
Q8
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First Condition for Perjury
FAILS
Did the person understand the
question(s)?
Highly unlikely Mr. K
accurately understood
many of the relevant questions
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No Evidence of Fraud
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General Knowledge
vs
Expert Knowlege
Expert can’t testify on
what is considered
common or general knowledge
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General Knowledge
•
•
•
Identify main bone structures
Diagnose medical condition?
No!
Expert Knowledge
Native-speaker judges, jury, lawyers
• Speak language naturally
• Have feel for meaning of a word
Linguistic experts should add more
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Help in Investigations
or in Trials
• Provide investigative tools
• Assist in a legal case (investigation
or trial)
• Linguistic analysis, ALONE, frequently
doesn’t solve a case or win the argument
in court
• Can’t get inside of head
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Forensic Linguistics
can be broadly defined as the interface between
language & the law in judicial & law enforcement settings
language
law
*Research-based*
*“Live” Cases*
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Handwriting & Document
Analysis
NOT Forensic Linguistics
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Some Areas of
Forensic Linguistics
• Communication between law enforcement
officers and witnesses, suspects, etc.
• Comprehensibility of the police caution issued
to suspects
• Use of linguistic evidence in court
• Courtroom discourse
• Court & law enforcement interpreting &
translating
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Aboriginal Justice
&
Asylum Issues
• Analyzes Australian Aboriginal
English in legal settings,
especially the courtroom &
educates law enforcement
• With team of linguists
worldwide, developed
Guidelines for the Use
of Language Analysis
in Relation to Questions
of National Origin
in Refugee Cases
September 21, 2005
Diana Eades
•
•
Australia and USA
Ph.D. The University of
Queensland
Linguistic Anthropology
Currently
Dept of Second Language Studies
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
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Forensic Linguistics
also includes
• Phonological variation in identity
• Readability/comprehensibility of legal
documents
• Trademark disputes
• Authorship attribution, for both written &
spoken language, incl.
threatening communications
• Interviews with children in the legal
system
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Phonological Variation:
Individual and Geographic
http://alt-usage-english.org/plosive_question.html
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Help Identify Type of
“person of interest”
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Phonology: Individual and
Geographic Variation
• Bomb threats to
Pan Am counter, LA
airport
• Disgruntled
employee (New Yorker)
sounded like
recordings of threats
William Labov,
Dept of Linguistics
http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~wlabov/Papers/How
Igot.html
September 21, 2005
Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
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Comprehensibility
• Comprehensibility of the police
caution issued to suspects
• Readability/comprehensibility of
legal documents
– Jury Instructions
– Contracts
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Jury Instructions
•
CALIFORNIA Supreme Court
Rulings & Penal code, Jury
instructions made simple,
August 26, 2005
Previous:
"Innocent misrecollection is not
uncommon.'‘
Peter Tiersma, JD, Ph.D.
Linguist and Law Prof.
Loyola University,
Los Angeles, CA
New:
"People sometimes honestly
forget things or make
mistakes about what they
remember.''
Bethany Dumas,
JD, Ph.D.
Dept. of English
University of Tennessee
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Plain English?
• Notwithstanding anything to the contrary set
forth herein, in the event Buyer orders in writing
changes which are approved by Seller or selects
extras as provided in this Paragraph, any
required payments by Buyer made with respect
thereto are not refundable to Buyer under any
circumstances (including but not limited to the
provisions of Paragraph 7 hereof regarding
Buyer's inability to obtain a mortgage
commitment), unless settlement does not occur
because of Seller's default hereunder or unless
this Agreement is terminated pursuant to
Paragraph 25 hereof. (86 words) (housing contract case)
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Pennsylvania Statutes
Trade and Commerce (Title 73)
Plain Language Consumer Contract Act
§ 2505. Test of readability.
• All consumer contracts shall be written, organized and
designed so that they are easy to read & understand.
• Guidelines were established covering 8 language categories
& visual/ graphic features
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Violations of Plain
Language Guidelines
35
30
25
20
Sec. 6
15
10
5
0
a
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b
c
d
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f
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Trademarks
When does
a trademark
become generic?
-Kleenex, Xerox-
Imagine the
“Golden Arches”
here
• McDonalds v. Quality
Inns
• McSleep Inns
Mc=low cost,
standardized, fast,
convenient?
Due to trademark
regulations,
I can’t show the
McDonalds
trademark!
(Shuy)
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Authorship
Attribution/ Identity
• Bomb threats
• Ransom notes
• Other threats of
violence
• Verification of suicide
notes
• Hoax emergency calls,
other hoaxes
• Scandalous or libelous
communications
• Claims or denials of
authorship of texts in
evidence [wills, reports, etc.]
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Where to start?
Questioned Document
????
????
Who created it?
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Did X write the Q-Document?
Questioned
Document ?
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Known
Document(s)
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What kind of person might
have written the Q-Document?
Questioned
Document(s) ?
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No Known
Documents
?
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Not all analyses of
language evidence is
forensic linguistics
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--A Task-NOT a Single Technique
• Linguistics
• Content Analysis
• Risk Analysis
• Style
• Statistics
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“Bugged” Communications
•
•
•
•
•
Multiple speakers
Confidential informant
Overlapping discussions
Poor transcripts
Visual context missing
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US v John Z. DeLorean
(narcotics)
Conversation analysis
•
•
•
Ambiguous references
“interim deal” “we” “that”
Wrong assumptions
Evidence of distancing self
(Shuy)
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Love Triangle
Case Summary
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Love Triangle-1
Juan
Arturo
Luisa
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Love Triangle-2
Juan
Luisa
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Love Triangle-3
Luisa
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Police
Interview
-No English skills
-3: 1
-Police interpreter
-No attorney
-No audio recording
-Misleading Qs
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Missing Voices
• Interviewer
asks in
English
• Reporter
records in Eng.
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-Interpreter asks
Suspect in Sp.
-Suspect replies in
Sp.
-Interpreter transl.
to Eng.

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Conversation Analysis
It’s ALL there in the text!
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Questioning Patterns
Police interviewing similar to trial?
Direct questioning
Attorney questions own
witness
Cross-examination
Opposing attorney questions
witness, trying to limit what
witness can say
• Asks many open-ended
questions
• Lets witness tell own story
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• Asks leading questions,
• Controls response—yes/no
• Builds in assumptions
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Shifting Responsibility
• Closed questions  yes/no
• Leading questions & statements
suggesting she was jointly involved in
planning the murder
• Fronting Luisa, putting her in the
beginnings of comments about planning
the murder
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Luisa’s Responses
Q: While you and Juan were talking about killing Arturo, did
he tell you what he was going to do with the body?
A: No.
1. Luisa appears to
answer information part of questions but
doesn’t react to shift in responsibility – except 1x
A yes/no response makes it look like she agrees with the
whole Q, incl. the shift in responsibility,
2. Content in some assumptions NOT consistent with content
of her earlier responses.
Where did content come from? If not from Luisa?
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Creating a Confession
Leading & complex questions +
Luisa’s interpreted short responses=>confession
that Luisa planned (with Juan) to murder Arturo
But we don’t know how much Luisa actually
understood in the questions & what was translated
• no audio of interpreter asking in Spanish
• no audio of Luisa’s actual responses in Spanish
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Death Penalty?
Luisa
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Forensic Linguistics
Can Help Serve Justice
Email: [email protected]
or
[email protected]
• Smithsonian Associates support staff
• Amanda Albright, Instructional Design Specialist,
Immaculata University
• Hans van Naerssen
• MacKenzie Gray, junior, Immaculata University
• Sociology, criminology, and sciences classes
of Judge John Anthony, Frank Hartleroad, & Sister Rose
Mulligan, IHM, & AV staff, Immaculata University
• Roger Shuy, Malcolm Coulthard, John Olsson, & other
forensic linguists who brainstormed with me Summer
2005
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The International
Association of Forensic
Linguists
IAFL
http://www.iafl.org/
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Full References in Presentation
http://alt-usage-english.org/plosive_question.html
http://www.english.bham.ac.uk/who/coulthard.htm
http://folk.uio.no/mostarke/forens_ent/forensic_entomology.html
http://www.hawaii.edu/sls/eades
http://www.iafl.org
http://www.ling.upenn.edu/wlabov/Papers/HowIgot.html
http://www.rogershuy.com
http://www.un.org
Butters, Ron. 9/30/05. Personal communications: posting on Forensic Linguists List – discussion list,
referencing collected volume of Raven McDavid.
Pennsylvania Statutes Trade and Commerce (Title 73) Plain Language Consumer Contract Act § 2505.
Test of readability
Shuy, Roger. nd. Using a Linguist in Tape Cases. Unpublished paper, pp. 11-12, and personal
communication, 9/8/05.
Case is also discussed in Shuy’s 1993 book, Language Crimes.
Shuy, Roger. 2002. Linguistic Battles in Trademark Disputes. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
Zallinger, Rudolph. 1965. Ascent of Man from “Early Man”. Listed on
http://www.learner.org/channel/courses/biology/archive/images/1678.html
Courtesy of TimeLife books
Extensive references for forensic linguistics can be found on the website of International Association of
Forensic Linguists, www.iafl.org as well as on websites of several members, including Blackwell, Dumas,
and Tiersma.
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Forensic Linguistics: How Words Help Solve Crimes