Words spoken or written are performed for a purpose whether they are transactional, interactional, informative or expressive. The choice of vocabulary, sentence construction and grammar used makes up our individual self-idiolects. Language is involved in every aspect of the law including: statements, interrogations, writing contracts, questioning and confessions. Even if there isn’t a language piece of evidence to be analysed, learning about the impact of construction on meaning and building strong believable arguments will be beneficial to all legal professionals. The aim of this investigation is to research forensic linguistics and find out the methods, outcomes, and previous examples to determine whether it is a beneficial application to the criminal justice. Forensic Linguistics is an underutilised tool and there is curiosity as to why, when language is everywhere and a key tool for communicating facts in court. Limitations of the study include.
Reliable: Is Forensic linguistics consistently good at correctly identifying the author. Forensic Linguistics: Forensic linguistics is a branch of applied sociolinguistics. It scientifically analyses language used in the legal system especially criminating evidence. Sociolinguistics: Sociolinguistics is the study of the interaction between social traits such as age, gender, class, accent etc. with language features. Theorists look at these variables and research them through studies to find community of practices. Community of practices are common phases or traits associated certain places such as, workplaces. Based on their profession, age and ethnicity. Common Linguistic patterns become a part of the speaker’s vocabulary as they pick up the lingo and style.
These nuances can then matched to being of a certain age or ethnicity. Self-Idiolect: Personal dialect or self-idiolect is the ‘individuals unconscious and unique combination of linguistic knowledge, cognitive associations and extra linguistic influences (2002,53). Unknowingly we all use English differently despite the standardised spelling and grammar rules enforced from when we first begin learning how to speak and write. If educated through the school system then most people have a fairly high standard of grammar, making them able to construct complex sentences on the whole correctly. So, the expectation would be that most people’s grasp of the English language would be closely related. In contrast, many make simple errors that they repeat daily. A word does not have the same meaning or connotations to everyone, so our interpretations of phrases will be based on our understanding and perception of different concepts, ideas and words. Our experiences in life will filter the language we come into contact with often and will have a big impact on our active vocabulary – words we used on a regular basis. For example, studying law and becoming a lawyer will enable the person to use and understand the specialist lexis legalese.
So Muatatis Mutandis is Latin for ‘with the necessary changes’ typically applying to contracts that have been rewritten with compromises or changes. Seeing this phrase in a piece of writing would suggest they have a background in law. As we experience new stages of life such as becoming a parent, our active vocabulary continually expands or decreases. This suggests that a letter written by a 12 year old will use different lexico-grammar choices to the same person at 22 years old. The change in active vocabulary needs to be considered when taken known texts to compare with disputed emails when using evidence in court. Linguistic Fingerprints: The belief that our idiolects are extremely unique to the point that our way of speaking and writing can identify us as the author. Currently there is no exact definition which determines what a linguistics finger print is, so the variables they assess are unknown. However, one would assume that the language used by two 17 year old teenagers from West Yorkshire would be fairly similar. So, finding variations between these two would be a lot smaller but their still would have had different influences resulting in their unique way of using language. Unlike fingerprints, personal dialect does not remain constant from birth and is never exhaustive. Despite this, the introduction of new words may decrease as we get older possibly from retiring form work etc, our active language becomes more stable but is still never fixed. Coulthard describes the fingerprint concept as a ‘misleading metaphor’ The idea implies that there is a large database of people’s idiolects on a computer attached to a name that is used to compare other texts with which isn’t correct. Idiolects cannot scientifically and categorically be matched to an author by running a programme on a computer.
Case Study 1: Helen hummeret, a 48 year old woman was murdered after receiving lessons from a supposed stalker. These letters detailed about where she is and what she was doing. As the investigation continued they received an anonymous confessions note saying he had ‘strangled her with some rope’. They called upon forensic linguistics to analyse the letters and compared them to the confessions note. The linguists were asked whether the stalker letters and confession could have been written by the same author Interestingly they found an example of ironic repetition in both texts, so unusual that there was no term for it before they analysed this evidence. Ironic repetition is the use of the same word in two consecutive sentences in different contexts. In the stalker note it said, ‘I wish I had found out earlier but, her fiancée had found out’ and the confession note stated ‘she wanted to break it off, so I broke her neck. ’ These two sentences were enough to conclude that they were written by the same author due to the distinctiveness of this linguistic feature.
As a result of the in depth knowledge of her whereabouts, the police started to look at suspects within her family including the son and husband. So, they were granted a warrant to obtain business emails sent from the husbands email address, based off the linguistic evidence they had already gathered. Bryan hummeret would use negative contractions sometimes e. g. ‘I can’t and I cannot’ when writing emails. However, he would never use positive contractions, so he would always write ‘he is’ instead of ‘he’s’. This would be deemed unusual as most people would use a mixture of both positive and negative contractions. Similarly, the stalker and confession note contained the same pattern and usage of contractions, suggesting that it was same author.
In turn this meant the husband, David Hummert was now a prime suspect for the murder of his wife. Alongside, with knowing the height of the murdered from cctv, and the soil on the Helens’ body matching the soil of the drive at their home. David Hummert was sent to prison for life. These literary advancements were critical to the progress of the investigation, once they knew that the letters and the note were written by the same person they could narrow down their investigation. However, the evidence alone would not have been enough to prosecute but used in conjunction with other techniques it helped to build a strong believable case against David Hummert. This case proves that language analysis can be very beneficial to solving cases and prosecuting the right person, and could be used to identify other criminals
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