Thursday, October 22, 2009

Forensic linguistics (authorship)

Did you know you can do more with a linguistics degree than just teach linguistics? And I don't mean translate, because translators and linguists are not the same thing (although in many instances these titles are flip-flopped). One of the most interesting non-academic linguistic path is into the field of Forensic Linguistics (FL). I could go on and on about this at length, but then what would I blog about later on when I have writer's block and need a relief? So today I'll just give the briefest of introductions. I'm more interested in forensic phonetics (dealing with spoken language rather than written), but I'll just touch on authorship attribution here.

The basic idea is that a linguist looks at two (preferably many more) texts and determines how similar they are. So for example, if there was an extortion threat mailed to someone, and there are writing samples of a person in custody, the linguist would be asked to compare the threat (the questioned document) and the writing samples (the known documents) to determine how likely it is that they were written by the same person. Neat, huh?

I personally think Tim Grant is the best person in this field, from what I've read, and it just so happens he was interviewed by the BBC about this. Here's his explanation of forensic linguistics. Enjoy!

And if you are really interested in this, the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL) is where you want to go to learn more. Get on the (quite active) listserv and go to the conference. Join so that you get the International Journal of Speech, Language, and the Law (which you can also get by joining the International Association of Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics (IAFPA), which is FL from the spoken side).

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