Can you use language to solve crimes? Sheila Silva y Vela Licenciatura en Lengua Inglesa, Universidad de Quintana Roo- Campus Cozumel
INTRODUCTION Linguists, people who work with languages do a lot of things that you probably never thought of. Did you know that your voice can tell a lot about you: where you grew up, your emotional state, whether you’re lying, even who you are? (Rickerson, 2012). Writing can also reveal many different features of your identity. Voice and writing analysis is what linguists who work in called Forensic Linguistics do.
WHAT IS FORENSIC LINGUISTICS? Forensic Linguistics is the study of any text or item of spoken language which has relevance to a criminal or civil dispute, or which relates to what goes on in a court of law, or to the language of the law itself. In addition to authorship attribution, Forensic Linguistics includes the study of courtroom discourse, courtroom interpreting and translation, comprehensibility of legal documents and texts, including the police caution issued to suspects, and the use of linguistic evidence in court (Forensic Linguistics Institute, 2010).
MOST COMMON APPLICATIONS:
An interesting case… The use of a computer program for textual analysis, text categorization and authorship attribution revealed that Robert Galbraith, the first-time author of a new crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling, was J.K. Rowling. The researchers took as reference the books written by Rowling of the "Harry Potter" saga and compared them with The Cuckoo’s Calling on a computer program on six features: word length, sentence length, paragraph length, letter frequency, punctuation frequency, and word usage. Word length was one of the strongest pieces of evidence to discover that the author was really J.K. Rowling (Hughes, 2013).
Plagiarism Have you ever taken someone’s writing from the Internet? Then this should be of interest to you. An anti-plagiarism checker called “Turnitin” can compare submitted assignments to material held in its database, allowing staff and students to check if their work is properly referenced. The software itself makes no decisions as to whether or not the work has been plagiarized. It just highlights sections of text, and set a percentage of material that has been found in other sources. This software also allows students to avoid accidental plagiarism and encourages them to think about their referencing and citation skills (University of Exeter, 2012-13).
Voice Analysis In computer voice analysis, speech is broken down electronically and then examined for clues about the speaker (Rickerson, 2012:218). The analysis of voice stress is claimed to be an effective method for distinguishing truth from lies and assessing general credibility.
Do you think this will really happen in the near future?
An interesting case… A recording of the supposed voice of the late notorious al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was subjected to speaker authentication by computer analysis a year after the 9/11 atrocity. It was compared with fourteen voiceprints known to be bin Laden and sixteen voiceprints of Arabic male speakers known not to be him. And guess what? The unknown voice was better match for the non-bin Laden group (Rickerson, 2012:219).
Think about this scenario: It’s a dark and stormy night sometime in the near future. You are leaving a party. After you slip behind the wheel and turn on the ignition, your car says, ‘Count to five’. It won’t starts unless you do, so you count aloud: one, two, three, four, five. ‘Sorry’ says your car, ‘You’ve have had too much to drink’. And it shuts off, because by analyzing your voice, the car’s computer knows you are intoxicated. (Rickerson, 2012:218).
Writing Analysis The analysis of a written text focuses on features such as style, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, word groupings, sentence length, grammatical usages, among (Rickerson, 2012:219). Computer software capable of analyzing thousands of these patterns can provide reliable evidence of authorship.
References Forensic Linguistics Institute. (2010). About Forensic Linguistics. Retrieved from http://www.thetext.co.uk/learn_about_forensic_linguistics.html Hughes, (2013, July 19). How Forensic Linguistics Outed J.K. Rowling (Not to Mention James Madison, Barack Obama, and the Rest of Us). National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved from http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/19/how-forensic-linguistics-outed-j-k-rowlingnot-to-mention-james-madison-barack-obama-and-the-rest-of-us/. Rickerson, E. M. & Hilton, B. (Eds.). (2012). The five-minute linguist: bite-sized essays on language and languages (pp. 218-221). London, UK: Equinox. University of Exeter. (2012). Anti-plagiarism software: Turnitin. Retrieved from http://as.exeter.ac.uk/it/e-learning/turnitin/
Acknowledgments Special thanks to Dr. Gabriella Casillas Navarro for her invaluable help in this project.
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