Language evidence: What it is, and what to do with it
Seminar Proposal for the Pacific Northwest Association of Investigators Sept 2011
Lorna Fadden, Ph.D. Miskomin Consulting, Department of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Lorna Fadden is a forensic linguist who consults on criminal and civil cases where
language analysis is needed. She provides expert analyses at investigative stages for law
enforcement and national security, as well as expert reports for legal counsel or litigation
support. Her research is in the areas of discourse analysis and sociolinguistics, and she
presents and publishes nationally and internationally. Fadden has considerable post
secondary teaching experience and in September of this year she will hold an assistant
professorship in Linguistics at Simon Fraser University. She has taught forensic
linguistics for law enforcement at the Justice Institute of British Columbia; previously,
she taught linguistics at the University of British Columbia.
The purpose of this outline is to provide a range of topics intended to introduce
investigators to the field of forensic linguistics.
I. Introduction: What is language evidence? How does the linguist approach it?
II. Authorship Analysis
When a document of unknown or disputed authorship turns up, it can be helpful to
compare the questioned sample with samples of known authorship, to rule out or rule in
Two blogs are compared to illustrate what the linguist looks for (word choice, phrase and
sentence structure, punctuation patterns and more), and a worked example is given from a
case in which a company insider tampered with the results of a survey. Limitations to
authorship analysis are also discussed.
III. Discourse Analysis
What people say and how they say it can reveal information about their intentions.
Threats, defamation, coercion, bribery and other ‘language crimes’ are often carried out
with subtlety, and a discourse analyst can distinguish an offending speech act from an
A recent case involving a set of text messages threatening suicide is covered.
IV. Sociolinguistic Profiling
The examination of language evidence to help shrink the pool of possible suspects.
Language features can point to gender, age, level of education, cultural backgrounds.
Two worked examples are given from a recent case involving a company VP sending
anonymous threats to a board of directors, and a series of threats in which the subject
attempts to mask his level literacy.
V. Forensic Phonetics
Speech analysis can be used to clarify what is said in unclear recordings, as in the case
with covert police recordings where . Speech analysis can also be used to identify
speakers. An example of vocal disambiguation is discussed.
VI. What should you look for when you contract a linguist?
Linguistics is a large discipline with a wide range of subfields, and no linguist can
possibly offer his or her analytical expertise in all areas, which is why investigators, legal
counsel, and those in litigation support must know what these areas are.