Linguistics — “the scientific study of language and its structure, including the study of grammar, syntax, and phonetics. Specific branches of linguistics include sociolinguistics, dialectology, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, comparative linguistics, structural linguistics, etc.” . As a general rule, linguistics is the study of theoretical knowledge about various spheres of society. However, there is a branch of linguistics, specializing in practical terms, for example, practical linguistics. One of these types of is forensic linguistics, which provides invaluable assistance in the disclosure of criminal cases. “Forensic linguistics can be defined as the application of linguistic knowledge, methods and insights to the forensic context of law, language, crime investigation, trial, and judicial procedure” . It also includes the study of the language in the field law, courtroom discourses and the language of legal documents such as wills and so on. In other words it is a part of linguistics that analyzes texts to solve crimes.
The aim of this report is to show how forensic linguistics serves justice and helps people to find the truth when a crime has been committed. The report will be consisting of 3 parts. At first, there will be presented the target of forensic analysis, then two areas of forensic language and finally examples of linguistic support of crime investigation.
- The target of forensic analysis
For past few years forensic linguistics has gained so much attention from university experts in linguistic all over the world notably in Europe and the USA. This field grew for the first time in the United States and Europe in the late of 1990s.
The target of forensic analysis is to examine forensic texts taken from such criminal context like murderer, suicide letter or note, suspicious death, narcotics investigations, terrorism and so on.
One of the main goals of Forensic Linguistics is to provide a careful and systemic analysis of the language. The results of this analysis can be used by many different professionals. For instance, police officers can use this evidence not only to interview witnesses and suspects more effectively but also to solve crimes more reliably. Lawyers, judges and jury members can use these analyses to help evaluate questions of guilt and innocence more fairly. And translators and interpreters can use this research to communicate with greater accuracy .
- Two areas of forensic language
Today, Forensic Linguistics is commonly divided into two major areas with many different sub-branches .
The 1st one is the Written language that is used in regional, national, and international law, in transcripts of police interviews with witnesses and suspects, criminal messages used in cases of terrorist threat, suicide, kidnapping, blackmailing. Also in the translation of legal documents from one language to another, the examination of text material to answer the questions about who may or may not have been the author. The written language examined by a Forensic Linguists can exist in many different forms such as phone messages, notes, handwritten letters, posting in social media and etc.
The 2nd one is spoken language that is used by interpreters during official interviews of witnesses, suspects, and victims and by offenders or victims during a crime. The focus of this area is not simply what was said, but how it was said.
- Some situations where forensic language helped to solve the crime.
First, this technique of forensic language works much more effectively when there is a trial where the circle of suspects has already been determined or when the investigation lacks evidence to detain a particular person. It was the case in 2001–2002 of the missing 15-year-old Daniella Jones, a schoolgirl from Essex (England). In the court, the defense of the main suspect, Stewart Campbell (Daniella’s uncle), used the text that had been sent by the girl after she had disappeared. In the text it was said that Uncle Stuart was wonderful:
«HI STU THANKZ 4 BEIN SO NICE UR THE BEST UNCLE EVER! TELL MUM I'M SO SORRY LUVYA LOADZ DAN XXX ".
The prosecution studied all the available messages and texts written by Daniella. Further on the basis of the analysis of the most constant and bright features in the girl's letter her «language portrait» (or idiolect) was created. The text sent after the disappearance, compared with the resulting «portrait», as well as with messages from her uncle, which were preserved by Daniella's parents .
The examination made it possible to conclude that the uncle had sent the text from the victim's phone himself to create an alibi and the appearance of his good relations with his niece.
There is another example. There are the materials of Amerithrax case, when the letters with anthrax appeared in the U. S. mail. At first glance, it seems that these letters were written by children, but the linguists found out that they were written by adults. Here’s how they found it:
- Printed handwriting can mean that the message is written by the child or not the native English speaker.
- The reverse address is fake, but its presence and location (where it should be) indicates that the person knows the rules of writing.
- The variant of writing the date ("9–11–01") is not typical for the USA, where it is customary to use the slash ("/") sign instead of hyphen ("-").
- Short sentences may mean that the author is not a native English speaker.
- Figure 1 is written completely, although in the USA it is often depicted as a vertical stick.
- There aren’t any grammar mistakes. This may mean that the author of the message is not a child .
And the last one shows how forensic linguistics helps to identify real motives of some action and proves controversial cases.
For example, Kurt Cobain was the lead singer, guitarist, and a songwriter of a rock band, Nirvana. On April 8th, 1994 he was found dead in his home in Seattle. The law system legally said that Cobain’s death was a suicide. But there are so many theories that say that it was a murder. But linguistic analysis of his death note proves a suicide, in this case its semantic analysis. This indicates lexical elements that contain negative meanings, pronounced by them phrases in the form of a metaphor or ambiguity (“This note should be pretty easy to understand”, “…but I still can’t get over frustration…”). Also there are so many phrases and clauses which referred his mental condition, which are depression, regret, and discomfort (“I haven’t felt the excitement…”, “I don’t have the passion anymore”, “I feel guilty beyond words about these things”).
All above-notes allow to some conclusion. Today forensic linguistics is a well-established internationally recognized independent field of study that helps in the investigation. It opens up new opportunities and horizons not only in linguistics but also in other spheres of life.
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