In April 2020, Dr. Robert Leonard, Professor of Linguistics and Director of Hofstra’s Graduate Program in Linguistics presented a Hofstra Public Zoom Session on Forensic Linguistics.
In the recorded session, Dr. Leonard shares his history working with the FBI and as a consultant on an extensive array of criminal cases and counterterrorism efforts, as well as founding the Hofstra Forensic Linguistics Death Penalty Innocence Project. Forensic linguistics can be used in a large range of cases, and is particularly useful in language crimes such as bribery, blackmail, and extortion.
Forensic linguistics often focuses on word choice and spelling. What a person says or writes can reveal more about them than we realize. This can include but is not limited to their nationality, native language, occupation, training, education, past residences, age, experience, and their workgroup identity. The goal is to maximize the intelligence yield from the written sources available. These could be texts, reports, wills, emails, threat letters, spoken communication, and more.
Forensic linguistics can be analyzed by considering the frequency each writer uses certain words, listening for unconscious semantic patterns, looking for distinctive phrases or unusual colloquialisms, and more. Forensic linguistics has been used to overturn the convictions of those wrongfully convicted. As with any forensic evidence, it is essential that attorneys evaluate the methodology used to ensure that experts are utilizing appropriate and reliable methods.
Read this New Yorker article to learn more about forensic linguistics.