Forensic Linguistics & its Application in Forensics


Forensic linguistics first appeared in 1968 when Jan Svartvik, a professor of linguistics used its analysis by statements. Roger Shuy also advances Forensics linguistics with his work. He authored many books related to linguistics, one of them is “language crimes: the use and abuse of language evidence in the courtroom”. Forensic Linguistics is the use of linguistics for crime investigation and court proceedings. Forensic linguists share many areas of interest with forensic psychologists and the two disciplines are likely to become increasingly entwined. Any rights under the law have to be communicated through language. What makes the language of the law easy or difficult to understand is one of the topic areas in forensic linguistics. From this understanding, forensic linguists can suggest reforms to legal language to make it easier to understand the people. Thus this area of forensic linguistics does not have a direct parallel to forensic psychology, in other areas, there are overlaps in content and approaches.

For example, can use their expertise in language practices to examine the peculiar language that is used in the courtroom. Language reveals a lot about the relationships between people and analysis of it can throw light on it. For example, power relationships within a courtroom setting. Forensic linguistics, however, does not restrict itself to understanding the language of the judicial process. Occasionally linguists may be involved in giving evidence in the courtroom. In the example of whether caution was understood, a linguist might argue that without an interpreter the person’s rights were violated and any conviction would thus be unsafe. Two other areas in which linguists might give expert evidence include questions of identification and questions of meaning and use. Identification questions might concern either spoken language using voice analysis or written language. If you received a telephone threat or an abusive letter a forensic linguist might be able to help identify who was behind them.

A random introduction of some of the applications of Forensic Linguistics in each level of language is given below:

Auditory phonetics: Speaker identification by victims and witnesses; voice identification; identification of social or regional accent or dialect; listener perception of speaker age and telephone speaker recognition.

Acoustic phonetics: Speaker identification by phonetic analysis, voice quality, phonological variation, speaking speed; effects of intoxication on speech; phonetic manifestations of speaker’s affective state, e.g., stress; disambiguating speech from background sounds; enhancement of audio records of disputed utterances.

Semantics: Interpretation of words, phrases & sentences; interpretation of texts (contracts, insurance policies, communications, restraining orders, statutes, contracts, legal texts); interpretation of spoken discourse in reading of rights & in police interviews and interpretations of jury instructions.

Stylistics and Questioned Authorship: Authors identification; possible suspected authors; descriptive methods of authorship identification; dialect evidenced in written language; questioned time and occasion of writing; stylometry etc.

Discourse and Pragmatics: Discourse of specific contexts; the language of the courtroom; the language of specific speech acts (threat, promising, warning, offer and acceptance, defamation, denial, perjury, sexual harassment, sexual assault).

Forensic linguists tend to agree that there is no such thing as a linguistic fingerprint; a consistent way in which an individual uses language across different situations and contexts. However, it does seem that we fall into habits of repeating behaviors and in this tendency, language behavior is no different. Consequently, in language individuals seem to reuse words, phrases, and linguistic constructions, and this can be useful if the author of a text needs to be identified. However, for most aspects used to describe voices and for nearly all of the factors concerning the choice of words or the grammatical construction of sentences, information like this on the distribution of features is not known and may be impossible to acquire. Language provides enormous possibilities for variety and people use this variety creatively, both consciously and unconsciously. We use language differently with our friends, our colleagues, and our boss; differently when we write or dictate, speak on the telephone or in face-to-face conversation; and we use language differently if we are happy, excited or depressed. Coping with this natural variation in individuals’ language is one of the big challenges in forensic linguistic identification and it is an area in which much research is being carried out. The attempt to understand is how an individual’s language is likely to behave across different situations; if this can be achieved, comparison and identification evidence will be able to move further down the road from a matter of opinion to the scientific discipline.

In courtroom language in court cases, forensic linguists also have an academic interest in the workings of the courtroom. They have performed analyses of courtroom questioning by lawyers, witness language and judges’ language in their rulings and in their instructions to juries. Through analysis of courtroom language, understanding can be gained of how power works in the courtroom, how witnesses are likely to respond to certain types of questions, and what is likely to confuse or inform juries. One area which has been well examined is that of rape trials. The crime of rape is a very serious one and whether someone is convicted can depend upon the question of consent. Consent, (i.e. whether the alleged rape victim agreed to have sex) is predominantly a question of communication and thus language use. A further issue often given prominence by feminist researchers is the way women victims of rape are treated by the legal system. It is argued that the process and in particular the opposing lawyers can create a very negative experience for the woman which can amount to re-victimization. It can further be argued that society’s wider attitudes to sexual behavior and relationships between the sexes can all be examined through the example of a rape trial. It can be argued that although the law has been reformed, the courtroom exchanges reveal that the ideology it reflected still existed. As well as exchanges between witness and lawyer, courtroom linguists are interested in the communication between judge and jury.

Legal Language Reform

The reform of legal language is not restricted to courtroom situations. If you have ever signed any kind of contract whether for a credit card, a telephone or a property rental agreement you will have encountered legal language. If you have read such a contract you may have noticed that it is difficult to understand. In their search for reform, linguists have not only studied the nature of legal language but also tried to understand why legal language is as it is. In their efforts to understand and provide explanations for the difficulties of legal language, linguists have come up with two main answers. The first draws on the history of our legal systems and the second is more functional in trying to understand the purpose of legal language.

Functioning of the Forensic psychologist

Several of the topics of interest to forensic linguists overlap with or have parallels with forensic psychology. Psychologists, for example, may be interested in individuals who are excluded from full participation in the legal system because they are in some way psychologically vulnerable.

Linguists, for their part, can become involved in cases where an individual may be linguistically vulnerable. Forensic Psychologists to be interested in courtroom processes and relationships also can study courtroom language in pursuing these interests. Additionally, in this field, there is certainly room for psychologists and linguists to collaborate.

Some psychologists are interested in the processes of legal decision-making but appear to pay little attention to how decision-making processes may have changed over the history of the law in civil society. Different types of decision-making might be identified through historic studies of the changing legal frameworks and this could lead to a greater understanding of what occurs today and how it might be improved. On the other hand, there is very little linguistic work on offenders. A few studies have examined sex offenders’ narratives of their Offences and there are general studies of prisoner language but these have yet to find applications.


Forensic linguistics is a field of research and practice which covers much ground. The legal and judicial systems depend upon language, and language experts can usefully apply their methods and insights to assist, criticize and attempt reforms in the judiciary. Forensic Linguistics can simultaneously be applicable in Civil and Criminal cases to support a legal conclusion. We have to focus on every aspect of the recent technologies that are changing our conventional Investigating & interrogation methods in Police Investigation. When using the language can be considered as evidence every case can have Linguistic significance. Thus, forensic linguistics/legal linguistics, or language and the law, is the application of linguistics knowledge, methods and insights to the forensic context of the law, language, crime investigation, trial, and judicial procedure.

About The Author

Manisha Varsani Is An Independent Researcher And Forensic Psychologist.


Jan Svartvik, a professor of English and Swedish language educator, is one of the world’s most productive linguists in the field of English Linguistics and Corpus Linguistic. He Co-authored a book titled “Investigating linguistic Acceptability” in 1996”

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