Forensic Linguistics Institute

FORENSIC LINGUISTICS INSTITUTE

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Excerpts from Word Crime

From my 2018 book ‘More Wordcrime’
Doing forensic linguistics

In this chapter I will give the reader some general tips on how forensic linguistics can be done. By ‘doing forensic linguistics’ I mean undertaking an authorship analysis. If you do not know what authorship is, this is the best, short way that I know how to describe it: authorship analysis is the methodology used by a forensic linguist to determine who the author of a particular document is – whether that document is a letter, an email, a phone text message or any other electronically produced item of text.

I should stress that I am not suggesting that after reading this chapter you would be capable of carrying out a forensic linguistic analysis, or that you should even consider doing so: I am simply showing you some aspects of how such an analysis is done. I certainly do not recommend anyone basing a legal decision, or any other type of decision, on the strength of information in this chapter and I take no responsibility for anyone doing so or any consequences which might ensue from such an action. Consider this chapter as being similar to a video describing the actions a person takes when driving a vehicle. It is no more than that. My main aim is to pique your interest – perhaps you will end up taking a course in forensic linguistics, either at a UK university or at the Forensic Linguistics Institute.

In the course of this chapter I will cite examples from previous cases, some of which are discussed in this book. What we are interested in here is a discussion and description of language, not in the personalities behind that language.

Regarding authorship, I would specifically mention three things which authorship analysis is not. The first is anything to do with handwriting analysis. Analysing a person’s handwriting in order to determine whether the writer is Ms X or Mr Y, or somebody else entirely, is a completely different discipline. It has nothing to do with authorship. No forensic linguist would get involved with handwriting analysis in any professional capacity.

The second thing that I would exclude from authorship analysis is any form of psychological evaluation or profiling. I am sometimes asked about things like an individual’s ‘motivation’ or ‘intention’. Again, these areas have nothing to do with authorship analysis, as interesting as some people might find them. I am specifically against the idea that a linguist should ever attempt to draw a psychological profile of a person. It should never be attempted. Note that psychological profiling is a completely different thing from sociolinguistic profiling: this form of profiling attempts to attribute certain specific social parameters to an individual based on the language s/he uses: parameters include age, gender, occupation, social group, etc. It is possible, in certain cases, to use linguistic data to work out, with a high degree of accuracy, the likely occupation of an author.

The third thing that I exclude from authorship analysis is any evaluation of whether the author is ‘telling the truth’ or not. It has long been the practice in common law and civil jurisdictions that deciding whether someone is telling the truth is the sole province of the court. Indeed, that is often the whole point of a trial: the defendant is charged with an offence, s/he denies the offence. Who is telling the truth? That is the purpose of the trial – by examining witnesses and evaluating other evidence, including any statements made by the defendant, the court should be able to determine this question for itself.

The role of the expert

It is not for experts to opine on the defendant’s guilt. In fact, I take little interest in the trial’s outcome. It is simply not my affair. All I can do is to make my analysis, give my evidence as competently as I can – which includes being crossexamined on that evidence – and then leave. Sometimes I will get a phone call or an email from a prosecutor thanking me for my evidence or, as the case may be, a defence solicitor, but I do not draw any conclusions as to whether the evidence played a part in the conviction or acquittal. That would be entirely inappropriate: expert testimony is only one very small part of the evidence in a trial, and the expert is nothing more than a small cog in a very big wheel. For the forensic linguist, the defendant is first and foremost an author.

In case there is any doubt, it should be further stated that the expert is not an advocate: advocacy is the job of lawyers. An expert should resist the temptation of trying to be persuasive, and should eschew any tricks of rhetoric in order to convey a point. It is not for the expert to try to endear him or herself to the court. Know your evidence, know what you want to say, and say it: but be open to suggestions from counsel. If you are wrong about something, admit it. You are only human. There are no geniuses. I have made mistakes in court in the past. Once, I froze completely, unable to remember a trivial detail about an email exchange. The judge rightly slammed me and said I was ‘unimpressive’. I am sure I was. I learned a lot from that case. You are an expert, and what the court most needs from you is your expertise, but at the end of the day all you are doing is giving an opinion. It is up to the court whether it wishes to accept that opinion or not. It is nothing personal. The expert’s ego does not come into it.

I read sometime ago about an expert who, upon hearing that the defendant in a case he had been working on was convicted, ‘punched the air’. That is triumphalist nonsense. Expert evidence is only one part of the evidence. We do the work because, aside from making a living, it is very interesting: it is intellectually and practically challenging, and we learn a lot about language. We try to be helpful – but to the court, and only to the court, not to any particular party in the case: this is an ethical duty, a moral obligation. We owe no party in the case anything at all other than our contractual obligations under English law (or whatever the jurisdiction is that we are working in). In English law, as elsewhere, the first and overriding duty is to the court. In English law, all that is required of the provider of a service in relation to the recipient of that service is for the work to be carried out with reasonable care and skill: there are no further expert duties to the professional client or to the lay client.

Carrying out the work with reasonable care and skill includes deciding whether you should undertake the assignment in the first place. Many cases involving an authorship dispute are simply not suitable for forensic linguistic analysis. For example, it sometimes happens that there is just not enough data to make an analysis or, on the other hand, there may be a question mark over the authorship of documents ‘known’ to have been produced by the defendant, or some other person. There are all sorts of reasons why an analysis might not be feasible, and those are just two of them. In one case, I decided not to undertake the work for the simple reason that it would have been entirely inappropriate in the circumstances. That was because, in the course of discussions with the client, I became concerned that he might not have capacity. I was therefore able to advise the solicitor regarding what I considered to be her client’s predicament. The solicitor confirmed that her client was suffering from severe mental illness and told me that a few months before a person claiming to be a forensic document examiner had accepted $30,000 from the client on the pretext of testing a single sheet of paper for the type of ink used on it: a wholly unnecessary and frivolous examination. Sadly, this person was never traced and the client was not able to regain his money. In the UK, certainly in a civil court, the court may ask the expert to justify a report and court appearance if it appears to the court that the work was not warranted. If it turns out that the client was a vulnerable person, or a person whose capacity was in question, a court would take an exceedingly dim view of an expert who nevertheless went ahead and carried out unnecessary, or improperly instructed, work.

It is the expert’s task to assist the court with resolving an important issue between the parties. The expert needs to be aware of what that issue is before making a judgement as to whether to undertake the work or not. On occasion, I have advised lawyers that a report would not assist the court even if the judge were to accept the evidence.

It is also important that the expert does not become part of the prosecution or defence team. The expert needs to keep at a distance from the lawyers in the case. A lawyer working on a case is naturally interested in the outcome: s/he has their client’s best interests to consider. Associating too closely with a lawyer in a case exposes the expert to the possibility of being influenced, albeit unintentionally. I say this as a lawyer myself, although I do not practise law.

Preliminary steps

It is important not to know too much about the case. A solicitor will sometimes want to tell the expert everything, including – of course – that their client is not guilty. This is entirely understandable, and a very human reaction: despite its stuffy image, the law attracts people who are passionate about what they do. A lawyer’s passion for the client’s case is understandable. In a system based on the rule of law it is essential. By contrast, the expert needs only to know what work the solicitor is looking for and then ask the solicitor to arrange the documents into various sets, for example Person A, Person B, Person X. You may need a little more detail in some cases, but you should always tread carefully in relation to what you ask: too much knowledge and you could contaminate the case. Let the lawyer tell you the minimum and leave it to you to ask any necessary questions.

This brings us to the topic of internet research. It is critical that you do not undertake any internet research, or research in any other form, when working on a case. There are a number of reasons for this: firstly, you risk contaminating the evidence and prejudicing yourself. There is usually very little reason to care about the facts of the case: in particular, you do not need to be weighed down by news stories, many of which may be inaccurate: moreover, the internet is full of ‘experts’ – people who have formed an opinion on the basis of scant information obtained second hand and who are anxious to prove to everyone how clever they are.

The facts of the case are, with few exceptions, none of your business. Whether the defendant is charged with multiple murders or shoplifting is of no concern to you. In particular, if there is a victim, and the solicitor’s client, or a police suspect, is the defendant in the matter, you do not want to know how badly the victim was injured, or assaulted, or – if there was a fatality – the nature of the injuries to the deceased. The court does not need you to be sympathetic with any party, least of all the victim: this is not to say you are inhuman, or unfeeling – of course, you will feel a natural sympathy for victims of crime, but the less you know about the individual case the better. So, do no research, and know little or nothing other than the nature of your task. Usually, nothing else is necessary. I have sometimes gone to court aware only that a certain crime was alleged to have been committed, but knowing nothing of the crime’s circumstances. In court, I avoid looking at the defendant altogether. I do not want to take the risk that I might unwittingly form an opinion as to his or her ‘character’ or ‘personality’.

So, to sum up the approach which I think needs to be taken to the evidential process, whether in writing a report or giving evidence live in court, is that one is essentially a clinician, carrying out an operation. Afterwards, you might learn of the circumstances of the case, but it is far better not to know anything outside your own evidence before the case has been dealt with in court.

Beginning the analysis

The first step in making the analysis is often transcription of the documents. Documents are usually received as paper copies or as image files. It is rare that a document is electronically readable when first received. Transcription can be a painful and lengthy process. If it is a person’s handwriting which is to be transcribed it is important to be cautious, and not to guess at what has been written. In most cases there will always be several words or phrases which cannot be transcribed accurately with any degree of certainty.

Even if documents are received which can be read by the computer immediately, it is important to know their history before they reached you, in particular you need to know how they were transcribed: if they were simply copied and pasted from a paper document, then the linguist needs to see the paper copy as well (either the original or a dependable facsimile). If the document was received as an email, it is important, from the court’s point of view, that the email headers accompany the message. In any event, the analyst should make it clear if s/he has any doubts as to the provenance of any of the documents received for analsyis. If someone has typed the document from a hard copy, you need to see that hard copy. Usually, I do not trust other people’s transcriptions. A forensic linguist might sometimes use a specialist proof reader to check over the quality of the transcription (providing this has been approved by those instructing), but final responsibility for an accurate transcription remains with the forensic linguist. In a busy laboratory, the documents will be prepared by technicians. The analyst will only see them once they have been transcribed and checked and coded in such a way as to prevent any identification (see below).

The examination

Assuming that you now have an accurate transcription of each document, you may proceed with the examination. Some linguists suggest you begin with the questioned document, note the features of importance, and then see whether those features are present in the documents of known authorship. However, this may lead to observer bias. It is far better to examine each document as a discrete entity, independent of what you may or may not have observed in other documents, and paying no attention to who may or may not have authored it. The way to do this is to have a technician number each document with a code which can only be deciphered with a key. So, Document 1 from Person A will be labeled in such a way that when you examine it, you will not know that it is from Person A, any more than you would know that another document was authored by, for example, Person B or Person C. With each document, observe and record what the principal features you consider to be of importance are, note those down, and then, only once you have examined all the documents, make your comparison. Afterwards, your colleague will be able to inform you as to how the documents are organised, e.g. Person A, Person B, etc. By taking these precautions you will avoid contaminating your evidence through reaching impressionistic or irrational conclusions. Remember, the linguist has to be able to stand up in court and relate to the court not only what observations were made, but how and why they were made. In other words, you will need to show the court that you carried out the examination objectively, fairly, impartially and transparently.

Overall approach

What you are aiming to do is to see whether any candidate is the likely author of the questioned document (let us call this document ‘Q’). You need to decide what features each of the candidates has in common with Q, and whether any of those features is distinctive enough to place any one of the candidates as more likely to be the author than any other candidate. The linguistic phenomena you observe need to be sufficiently unusual for such an observation to be valid. Linguists refer to such phenomena as ‘marked’. For example, if I spell the word ‘receive’ as ‘recieve’ that is marked (i.e. not standard). However, since many people make this particular spelling mistake, it is far from unusual and so would hardly raise the forensic linguist’s interest. In one case, an author wrote ‘riting’ instead of ‘writing’. This is both marked and highly unusual. I would certainly consider, in any inquiry, if a writer produced ‘riting’ instead of ‘writing’, that that would be a linguistic feature worth noting, especially if it occurred more than once. If the document has been produced using a keyboard an apparently marked form may be a typographical error.

Observations of linguistic phenomena

We may consider linguistic phenomena under a number of convenient headings, including (i) spelling and other aspects of orthography (for example punctuation), (ii) grammar, (iii) the lexicon, and (iv) idiom. In reality, these four areas of language cannot really be separated because they are all part of the system we call language. A further area that might indicate the possibility of an authorship match (I stress might) is where identical expressions are used across known and questioned documents.

Spelling and orthography

The key to identifying authorship indicators is to develop the ability to notice the smallest details, including spelling habits and the way in which a person uses punctuation.

The reader may have heard of the tragic case of JonBenét Ramsey, the six year old girl who was murdered at her home in Colorado some twenty years ago. A handwritten ransom note was found (the writer claiming to be part of a ‘foreign faction’), and one curious point about that note was the misspelling of two words: ‘business’ as ‘bussiness’ and ‘possession’ as ‘posession’. Despite these two apparently basic errors other words of equal or greater spelling difficulty were produced in their standard forms, e.g. ‘attaché’, ‘adequate’, ‘monitor’, and ‘foreign’, amongst others. In my opinion, the misspelled words were simply a ploy to lend weight to the claim that the author of the note was ‘foreign’. The curious thing about these misspellings, however, is that whenever I ask a group of students to transcribe the note, only a handful will notice the misspellings. The biggest obstacle to learning to observe what there is, is our preconceptions as to what should be. The art in forensic transcription is to see the words, letters and punctuation marks as a set of objects devoid of meaning.

In this book, you will come across a number of curious spellings, but one that you may find interesting is the way in which, in one case, the author wrote ‘staff’ instead of ‘stuff’: see the chapter ‘The little things’.

Moving onto punctuation examples, an employee who had recently obtained a promotion at work was surprised to receive an anonymous letter criticising her weight.The anonymous letter writer told the addressee to "take your arrogant, cake shoploving arse back to X....". While the recipient considered this letter to be childish, even abusive, it seemed to be intended as no more than an insult, and she was disposed to ignoring it.

However, not much will deter a resolute hate mail writer, and not long after the first letter was received a second letter turned up, containing the expression "your whining tokenarse". The employer had, through inquiries, a reasonable idea as to who the author of the first letter was, and so the forensic linguistic question came down to whether the two letters were of the same authorship. Noticing these two phrases, I considered the use of the hyphen in each of the examples to be interesting. As we can see, the noun phrases are structured as follows:

[your arrogant {-loving) arse}]
[your whining {token-arse}].

In each case, the entire expression is a noun phrase. The curly brackets contain a further noun phrase – i.e. ‘cake shop-loving arse’ and ‘tokenarse’ respectively. Each example shows an attempt at close attention to detail on the part of its author. I would just mention in passing that I was not specifically asked to give an opinion on the author’s (or authors’) occupation (or occupations), but I would suggest this person was likely to be female, and probably working in an administrative role which required attention to detail. It has been my observation, which I confess to be somewhat subjective, that women are generally more observant when it comes to small, apparently insignificant details than men.

Syntactically, hyphens are sometimes used to define phrase boundaries, but I am not entirely sure that they work in these two instances. In the first example, the hyphen plus the word ‘loving’ appended to ‘shop’ places the emphasis on ‘shop-loving’ and backgrounds ‘cake shop’, so that if the words were spoken, the presence of the hyphen would mean that ‘cake’ would appear, in a temporal sense at least, detached from what followed, giving us something like:

“Cake shop loving arse”.

If the second example were spoken, applying the same idea, we would get:

“whining token arse”.

With regard to the first of these, ‘cake shop’ is a noun, i.e. a shop where cakes are sold. However, the hyphen breaks this up, as indicated above and, instead, ‘arse’ is now qualified by ‘shop loving’ instead of ‘cake shop loving’. In other words, instead of having a ‘cake shop loving arse’ we have a ‘shop loving arse’. The hyphen alters the emphasis in the phrase such that the importance of ‘cake’ as part of ‘cake shop’ is backgrounded.

The reader will appreciate that the expression in the second letter was intended as a racist insult. Hence, we see in the second example that the addressee is being referred to as a ‘token’.

As with the previous example, however, ‘whining’ has effectively been syntactically detached from ‘token arse’ by the use of the hyphen, giving us, as noted above the formulation:

‘whining token arse’.

In other words, a key part of the semantic content of the phrase, namely ‘whining’, has been backgrounded in importance by the use of the hyphen, and this appears to mirror the process in the first example.

These examples demonstrate the importance of attention to apparently insignificant matters such as punctuation marks: in this case a hyphen appears to reveal a particular syntactic design common to two separate communications. While it is true that this feature is unlikely to be peculiar to a single individual, when taken in conjunction with other attributes which the two letters have in common, I concluded that the letters were consistent with regard to authorship.

Throughout this book you will see other examples of punctuation and orthography which have proved useful in authorship analyses. The chapter The little things, for example, contains an odd occurrence – namely, the word ‘however’ followed by a semicolon, while the chapter The mysterious Mr Erdnase shows a semicolon followed by ‘however’. In the chapter The concrete tomb, the author was a French native speaker. Whereas most European francophones will place a space before a colon – this individual did not. The same feature was found across documents known to have been authored by him and also within an email allegedly sent by the murder victim, a person who did not share this particular habit. Thus, whereas in Wordcrime (the first book of forensic linguistic cases I wrote) a fake suicide letter writer was caught by a full stop, here the author of an email claiming the victim was on an extended global holiday, was exposed by the way in which he used a colon: sadly, the victim was not on holiday at all – he had been brutally murdered and then buried in a concrete tomb in the email writer’s garden.

Grammar

Grammar is so closely associated with the school subject that most of us loved to hate, that practically everybody simply switches off when they hear the word ‘grammar’. Sadly, our teachers did not equip us to realise that grammar is just a set of tools used by the language to convey meaning.

In language, a lot of the heavy lifting is done by ‘little’ words, things like prepositions, conjunctions and determiners. Prepositions are important because they link phrases. Without prepositions, English would have to depend on some other system – for example, a case system such as is found in certain languages. In the chapter The Prosecutor of the ICC v the President of Kenya, a curious omission was found across two documents: “The XYZ told us they had been sent and were representing ABC”. Here, the preposition ‘by’ has been omitted after the word ‘sent’. Prepositions can be significant in an authorship analysis, where there is a marked construction. I would consider the absence of ‘by’ here to indicate a marked construction. Of course, on its own a finding of this nature would not be significant but – taken with other similarities between known and questioned documents – misuse of prepositions may indicate consistency between two authors. Conjunctions are also interesting. In another case, the author regularly used ‘for’ where most people would use ‘because’, e.g. ‘for there is no reason why’, ‘for you should go....’, etc. Although ‘for’ is perfectly acceptable as a substitute for ‘because’, it is now somewhat archaic. Again, no analyst would consider this important on its own but, in conjunction with other features, it may be helpful in an analysis.

Determiners can also be helpful in indicating an authorship similarity, especially in relation to authors whose first language is not English. Speakers of certain other languages are sometimes known to have difficulty with ‘the’, for example speakers of Slavic languages and languages which belong to the modern Indic group.

In one instance, the known author was a Hindi speaker whose use of ‘the’ was not standard. However, the questioned documents displayed competence in this area. Other determiners can also help with authorship problems. In another case, the author’s examples of difficulty with determiners included ‘I broke my both legs’ and ‘two lovely such people’. Some instances of this type of markedness might arise simply as a result of a momentary lapse on the author’s part. However, where a pattern emerges the analyst can begin to consider disregarding that possibility.

Lexicon

Dictionaries do not exist just on library shelves and on the internet. Every speaker begins to construct an internal dictionary, almost from the moment that language acquisition begins. The lexicon continues to develop throughout life, or until some form of language loss occurs, for example if the individual suffers some form of cognitive damage, such as a stroke, the onset of dementia, or some other neurolinguistic pathology. The individual’s lexicon is a dynamic faculty, that is to say it is constantly changing. Its content is based on a combination of social experiences, including daily interactions in relation to the individual’s home life, education, work, media (including reading, television, etc) and other forms of entertainment. Each individual’s lexicon is unique.

A person’s occupation will to some extent influence the lexicon, for example lawyers may habitually speak legalese, even on informal occasions, while computer specialists are on occasion given to ‘geekalese’. Forensic linguists who analysed police statements in the early miscarriages of justice cases soon noted the tendency of police officers to write in a kind of institutional register sometimes referred to as ‘police speak’ or ‘cop speak’.

So, for example, an officer does not ‘drive a car’ but ‘proceeds in a vehicle’, ‘observes’ rather than ‘sees’ something, ‘forms an opinion’ instead of ‘concludes’ and what you and I might refer to as a ‘place’ is more likely, in cop speak, to be a ‘locus’. A man is always a ‘male’, which occasionally leads to such oddities as ‘the male person stated that....’ There is no problem with this institutional register, since it serves a purpose in police communications. However, when we find statements supposedly produced by an ordinary person in which phrases such as ‘male person’ or ‘the firearm discharged’ occur, we are entitled to be sceptical as to how those statements were produced. In Wordcrime, you may recall the case of James Earl Reed, in which Reed allegedly described the alleged murder weapon as ‘a silvery-colored, somewhat rusty 9 mm semi-automatic pistol’. Linguistically, it is highly unlikely that such a lengthy noun phrase would occur in speech. Not only is this a somewhat long noun phrase – it is also extremely lexically dense. If you read the chapter A pink handled kitchen devil knife in this book you will see what I mean by ‘lexically dense’. For now, think of it as ‘too much content packed into too few words’. In Reed’s statement he is supposed to have used the word ‘nonchalant’ to describe one of the victims, and to have referred to a vehicle as a “small two-door red car”. This is also somewhat lexically dense, but in addition, if you search for that phrase on the internet (in full quotation marks) you will see that it crops up again and again in police reports. In any case, why would someone planning a murder in a house care about what type of vehicle the victims arrived at the house in? If Reed referred to the car at all, he is much more likely to have spoken of ‘a little red car’. As for the word ‘nonchalant’ I considered that to be a somewhat surprising member of Reed’s lexicon, given that Reed’s IQ had been measured at 77 just months before his trial. Let me digress here to say that in some states in the USA, a person will not be deemed fit to stand trial if his or her IQ is 75 or less. In my experience, defendants whose capacity is doubted rarely have an IQ at that level: it is almost always one or two points above 75. The suspicion must lie that the testing process is, in some cases at least, a charade. Moreover, it takes no account of any margin of error. In other words, a person whose IQ is measured at 77 may, in fact, have an IQ no higher than, say, 73.

Idiom

Idiom refers to the structure of an expression whose meaning does not depend on the meaning of the individual words in that expression. For example, we would not imagine that a person of whom it was said ‘he leads a dog’s life’ is a member of the canine species, or that a friend who stated that he was ‘up a creek without a paddle’ was, at that moment in a canoe on a river without the appropriate means of navigation. A striking example of unusual idiom occurred in the case of the Unabomber where the author wrote ‘to eat one’s cake and have it’, rather than the more usual ‘to have one’s cake and eat it’. The author’s brother realised that he had only ever heard that form of the idiom used by his mother and his brother, and this single phrase was instrumental in identifying the bomber as Ted Kaczynski. Jim Fitzgerald, the FBI Special Agent working on the case discovered, however, that the way Ted Kaczynski used the expression had been standard up until the early modern period.

Identical expressions

In the infamous Ice-cream Wars case, several officers quoted a defendant as having used these identical words: “I only wanted the van windaes shot up. The fire at Fat Boy's was only meant to be a frightener which went too far”. In the chapter A pink handled kitchen devil knife I describe why it is unlikely that this would represent an accurate record of what the defendant had said. In a nutshell, it is improbable that two speakers (or writers) acting independently of each other will produce identical expressions of more than six words in length (the above quotation is over 20 words long), excluding where the expression is a fixed phrase or part of a fixed phrase. Police statements tend to contain a stock of such phrases, for example “on mobile uniform patrol”, “smelled alcohol on his breath”, “cautioned and arrested the suspect”, “conveyed the suspect to the police station”, and many more. Politicians are probably more guilty of this type of linguistic abuse than any other section of society. Particularly loathsome are ‘lessons will be learned’ (except that they never are), ‘strong and stable’ (which always calls to mind ‘weak and wobbly’), ‘govern in the interests of the whole country’ (yes, of course), ‘proceed with moving forwards’ (a sure sign that things are about to go backwards), and scores of others. However, this phenomenon of fixed phrases aside, fnding two authors who produce an identical expression of six or more words is likely to be exceptionally unusual.

Conclusion

In this chapter I have outlined some of the elements of language which may be of interest to those considering an authorship problem. We looked at a number of examples of the type of phenomenon which might be useful to the forensic linguist. These examples are expanded on in the course of this book where you will find more detail regarding the methods and techniques used in solving particular authorship and other linguistic problems. In forensic linguistics it is often the case that very small clues will assist in leading to an attribution. However, at no stage does forensic linguistics ever claim to identify an author. To put this in perspective, even a geneticist would not make such a claim: like any other expert witness, the geneticist does no more than offer an opinion as to the meaning of certain observed phenomena. This applies whether the phenomena in question are linguistic in nature, chromosomal, fibrous, entymological, palynological, mineralological, or related to any other discipline.

Dr John Olsson, Forensic Linguist


Excerpts from Word Crime

Forensic linguistics and murder

Forensic linguistics and police statements

Doing forensic linguistics

The Prosecutor of the ICC v the President of Kenya

The missing flight attendant and the concrete tomb

Dr. John Olsson
About Dr. John Olsson