Forensic linguistics links

The International Association of Forensic Linguists, of which I am a member, describes itself as follows:

bq. The International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL) is an organization which primarily consists of linguists whose work involves them in the law. Narrowly defined, this means linguistic evidence in court (authorship attribution, disputed confessions etc.), but in fact the association aims to bring together those working on any aspects of language and the law (see the non-IAFL list on the Birmingham FL Home Page). While full membership is open to linguists, the association welcomes others, particularly members of the legal profession, as student members.

There is a lot of interest in courtroom language, which can be useful, although probably more for interpreters than translators. The site has a categorized bibliography and a link to the Journal, with synopses of articles. The Webster site has links too.

Ruth Morris has written about translation problems in court (I didn’t realize she started off by studying French and German at Bradford and becoming an EC interpreter). Her website is still under construction (since 1997, it appears!) but has a short biography and links to two interesting articles: Interpreters and the legal process and Justice for non-English speakers. She has also published a book, with the magistrate Joan Colin, called Interpreters and the Legal Process (ISBN 1 872 870 28 7).

Incidentally, John Gibbons published a book called Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language in the Justice System in 2002 – I know nothing about it!

This is not intended to be an exhaustive entry, but I will finish by mentioning Peter Tiersma‘s very readable and useful book Legal Language, now available in paperback. He’s also written a Frisian Reference Grammar – there are sound examples on his website, including the famous one:

bûter, brea, en griene tsiis, wa’t dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries
“butter, bread, and green cheese, whoever cannot say that is no upright Frisian”

I remember when I was studying German at London University hearing a lecture on the topic ‘Bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Friese’.

Tiersma too has a page of language and law links.

Audiolex analyse tape recordings. And here is a copy of their newsletter Forensically Speaking – don’t know if this 2000 one was the first and last. They quote some unexpected uses of forensic linguistics:

bq. + a sheepdog, identified by its bark (a very old New Zealand case)
+ investigations into glottalalia (speaking in tongues) and a “medieval ghost” who sent messages via computer
+ a trademark case in which the differing pronunciations (American and Australian) of the word “mobile” became an issue
+ does “Yes” mean “Yes, I agree that what you are asking me is correct” or “Yes I understand you” or “Yes I understand you are asking me a question” or “No, but it would not be polite or respectful of me to say so”?
+ determining the order in which gunshots were fired
+ in the determination of Australian aboriginal land rights claims, based on their traditional relationship with the land, as indicated by the language they speak
insights into relationships provided in some languages by the use of honorifics and formal/informal distinctions
+ study of aircraft “black box” recordings
+ in a dialect of English where “kill” may simply mean “hit”, when a suspect says “I killed him”, to what is he actually confessing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.