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Forensic Science

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What is Forensic Linguistics?

According to expert Dr. Carole E. Chaski forensic linguistics applies the theories, constructs and analytical methods of linguistics to questions which arise in civil, criminal and security investigations and adjudication.
Dr. Chaski notes that an informed understanding of forensic-linguistics requires familiarity with the broader application of linguistics as a social science. This is because virtually every linguistic nuance has been examined within a legal context. These include:
 Phonetics & phonology - the system of sounds in human language
 Morphology - the minimal units of sounds which convey meanings
 Syntax - the ways in which words can combine into phrases
 Semantics & Syntax - word, phrasal and sentential meanings
 Pragmatics - language use in conversation and other forms of discourse
 Language change - the ways in which language evolves over time
 Psycholinguistics - how the human cognitive system processes language
 Neurolinguistics - human neuroanatomy and neuronal functioning
 Sociolinguistics - identification of linguistic patterns constrained by social, class, racial and gender boundaries
 Dialectology - identification of dialects related to regional boundaries
 computational linguistics - tools through which computers can be used to perform linguistic tasks
While there are many primary and secondary linguistic subfields, Dr Chaski makes the very important point that one should not be fooled into thinking that forensic linguistics relates to anything to do with language and the law, it does not.
The primary difference between forensic linguistics and non-linguist methods is the scientific approach. In forensic linguistics, the scientific method requires hypothesis testing and a litigation-independent testing of the method for its accuracy. Further, these tests are performed with robust controls regarding data quantity, data sources and analytical objectivity.

The Institute for Linguistic Evidence validates reliable document authentication techniques, identifies and rebuts junk science techniques, and provides assistance to investigators and attorneys in criminal and civil trials whenever the authorship of any document - a suicide note, threatening letter, patent brief, licensing examination essay, anonymous letter, ransom note, electronic message - is questioned or suspicious.
Dr Chaski and her fellow (ILE) associates are the only forensic linguists in the United States to have won government funding for their forensic-linguistic research.

Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice By L.M Solan & P.M Tiersma
Why do so many people voluntarily consent to searches by have the police search their person or vehicle when they know that they are carrying contraband or evidence of illegal activity? Does everyone understand the Miranda warning? How well can people recognize a voice on tape? Can linguistic experts identify who wrote an anonymous threatening letter?

Speaking of Crime answers these questions and examines the complex role of language within our criminal justice system. Lawrence M. Solan and Peter M. Tiersma compile numerous cases, ranging from the Lindbergh kidnapping to the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton to the JonBenét Ramsey case, that provide real-life examples of how language functions in arrests, investigations, interrogations, confessions, and trials. In a clear and accessible style, Solan and Tiersma show how recent advances in the study of language can aid in understanding how legal problems arise and how they might be solved.

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