The MSc programme combines a foundation in general linguistic-phonetic theory and method with extensive practical experience in analysis of forensic materials.
The MSc has been designed in conjunction with one of the world's leading forensic speech laboratories, JP French Associates. The director of the laboratory, Professor Peter French, will deliver some of the taught components and will supervise some research projects. Students will also observe the working practices of the laboratory, as well as cognate institutions such as courts, on site visits.
Areas of the MSc overlap with those central to speech technology (especially speaker recognition), as well as communications and recording technology (including the development of recording systems for emergency calls, police messaging and covert operations).
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The MSc in Forensic Speech Science provides a comprehensive foundation in the aims, practices, and principles of speech analysis for forensic purposes. The course will:
The course will be of interest to:
The autumn term provides a general introduction to linguistics (especially language variation), phonetics and acoustics.
The spring term comprises modules which enable students to expand their knowledge and skills in speech analysis, performing detailed work on a variety of recorded materials using a range of practical methods.
In the summer term students apply their knowledge and analytic skills to authentic forensic materials, with a focus on case work in speaker identification. The programme is then completed by a research dissertation, however, the programme may be taken without the dissertation element for the award of a postgraduate diploma.
The MSc is not intended as a stand-alone vocational qualification. However, successful completion of the programme will provide students with the requisite skills, understanding, and knowledge to work effectively and increase their employability in forensic domains as well as in related fields such as the police force, prison service, emergency call services and security services.
The MSc also provides distinctive training for students who wish to continue their academic careers to PhD level in phonetics, sociolinguistics/language variation and change, or acoustics.
Graduates of the MSc programme have found employment with police services, forensic laboratories, and as academic researchers.
The MSc qualification will equip students to apply for membership of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics.
Forensic speech science is the application of linguistics, phonetics and acoustics to legal investigations and proceedings.
Speaker comparison is the most common task in forensic speech analysis. It involves the comparison of speech patterns to assess the possibility of identity or non-identity of voices. Comparison is made by examining the phonetic, linguistic and acoustic components of the speech, and may be supplemented by automated procedures using speaker recognition technology.
Voices are highly variable, and comparison can be a very complex matter.
Disputed utterance examination involves analysis of problematic sections of recordings to determine what was said. There may be dispute, for example, because of noisy conditions, overlapping speech, accents, dialects, or even language.
Enhancement may be carried out to assist in this kind of work. Enhancement involves applying digital filters and dynamic processors to recordings to reduce background noise and improve intelligibility of speech.
Profiling involves analysis of recordings of unknown speakers to gain information about the regional and social background of the speaker.
Background noise may also provide information about where and when the recording was made.
Sometimes voice evidence can be crucial in a case even when it has not been recorded. A witness may have heard a voice but not seen the face of the speaker, for example if receiving abusive phone calls, witnessing a crime in the dark, or encountering masked robbers.
It is now generally accepted that witnesses must undergo formal testing in order to demonstrate their ability to recognise a particular voice. This is usually done via the construction of a voice "identification parade" in which the witness is asked to identify the criminal's voice within a group of foils.
Forensic speech analysts are also involved in general experimental work to test recognition and recall of voices.
Authentication involves examining recordings for evidence of editing or tampering, or assessing whether a recording has been made on a particular machine.
Some forensic cases involve analysis of recordings of non-speech sounds such as gun shots, machine noise or coughs.
In other cases sound propagation tests may be carried out, for example to assess whether a particular sound would have been audible to a witness at a particular location.
Who to contact
- Martha Harrold
What is forensic speech science?
- For more information on the field of forensic speech science and its applications, see the About FSS tab.
- Visit also Forensic Speech Science at the University of York.