MSc in Forensic Speech Science

The MSc programme combines a foundation in general linguistic-phonetic theory and method with extensive practical experience in analysis of forensic materials.

Overview

Overview

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 are given the opportunity to go on site visits that will allow them to observe the working practices of the laboratory, as well as those of cognate institutions such as courts.

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).

Visit Forensic Speech Science at the University of York for more information.

Aims

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:

  • Provide a thorough grounding in the theoretical underpinnings of forensic speech analysis, especially in phonetics, acoustics, and sociolinguistics/language variation
  • Introduce students to the practical techniques used in forensic speech and audio analysis
  • Provide students with an appreciation of theoretical and methodological problems in performing forensic speech and audio analysis
  • Enable students to apply their skills and knowledge to recorded materials from real criminal cases
  • Enable students to perform original research in speaker comparison and speech content analysis
  • Impart understanding of the role and responsibilities of the forensic speech scientist as expert witness

Applicants

The course will be of interest to:

  • Graduates with a background in linguistics, acoustics, English or other language-based disciplines
  • Graduates in law, criminology or psychology
  • Professionals in legal practice, government agencies, law enforcement agencies or other branches of forensic science
  • Potential practitioners of forensic speech science

Structure

Course structure

Autumn Term

The Autumn Term provides a general introduction to linguistics (especially language variation), phonetics and acoustics.  The typical Autumn term modules are:

  • Introduction to forensic speech science (10 credits)
  • Phonetics and phonology (10 credits) or Advanced Phonetics (10 credits)
  • Language variation and change (10 credits)
  • Quantitative methods (10 credits)

Spring Term

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. There will also be forensics labs sessions which are not credit-bearing.  The typical Spring Term modules are:

  • Articulatory and impressionistic phonetics (20 credits)
  • Phonological variation and change (20 credits)

Summer Term 

In the Summer Term students apply their knowledge and analytic skills to authentic forensic materials, with a focus on case work in speaker identification. 

  • Research in forensic speech science (20 credits)

Summer Term and Vacation

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.

  • Dissertation (60 credits)

All terms

  • Research training seminar (20 credits)

Careers

After study

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, prison service, emergency call services and security services.

Further study

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.

Occupations

Graduates of the MSc programme have found employment with police services, forensic laboratories, and as academic researchers.

International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics

The MSc qualification will equip students to apply for membership of the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics.

About FSS

About forensic speech science

Forensic speech science is the application of linguistics, phonetics and acoustics to legal investigations and proceedings.

Speaker comparison

Applications

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 analysis and enhancement

Applications

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.

Speaker profiling

Applications

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.

Voice line-ups

Applications

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

Applications

Authentication involves examining recordings for evidence of editing or tampering, or assessing whether a recording has been made on a particular machine.

Forensic audio analysis

Applications

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.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

You should normally hold or expect to receive at least a 2:1 or equivalent in your first degree.

If your first language is not English and your first degree was not taken in an English speaking country, you will need to show evidence that you meet our English Language requirements.  We accept an IELTS score of 7, including 7 in both the written and oral assessment components.  Full details of other accepted qualifications are given here.

Applying

Applying for the MSc in Forensic speech science

You can apply for this course using our online application system. If you've not already done so, please read the application guidance first so that you understand the various steps in the application process.

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Who to contact

What is forensic speech science?

I really enjoy the forensic laboratory sessions in which we are working with real case recordings.

Katharina, MSc in Forensic Speech Science

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