Forensic Linguistics - LAN00065H

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Dominic Watt
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

The module will provide students with an understanding of the topics across the field of forensic linguistics, with a principal focus on the analysis of written texts that are of evidential significance (most particularly in the form of author profiling – where the author of a text is unknown – or author comparison, where a questioned sample of writing is compared against a sample written by a known author).

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2019-20 to Summer Term 2019-20

Module aims

  • The module will provide students with an understanding of the topics across the field of forensic linguistics, with a principal focus on the analysis of written texts that are of evidential significance (most particularly in the form of author profiling – where the author of a text is unknown – or author comparison, where a questioned sample of writing is compared against a sample written by a known author).
  • Areas to be covered include authorship analysis and attribution, plagiarism detection, forgery, and impersonation; there will also be sections on language crimes, forensic corpus linguistics, language analysis in the asylum process, trademark law, language rights, and language in the courtroom (courtroom discourse, translation/interpreting, etc.).
  • The characteristics of legal language will also be touched upon, as will forensic phonetics and discrimination based upon linguistic behaviour, but as these topics are dealt with in more detail in other modules, priority will be given to material that is not covered elsewhere.
  • Students on the module will develop their skills in the formulation of arguments based upon the synthesis of knowledge acquired from the module readings, from their own observations, and from an understanding of language and linguistics brought from other modules they have studied/are studying. They will be required to communicate these arguments clearly and cogently via a group oral presentation and through the short essays they write for the closed written examination at the end of the module.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

  • Students will acquire knowledge of key theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches used in the forensic analysis of written documents, for example with the goal of acquiring an objectively-grounded opinion concerning a document’s authorship.
  • Students will develop an appreciation of the nature and breadth of the set of offences classified as language crimes - extortion, perjury, defamation, incitement to racial/religious hatred, etc. - and will become familiar with those areas of the law under which these offences are prosecuted in England & Wales as well as in a variety of other jurisdictions.
  • Students will understand the importance of linguistic science as applied to the investigation and prosecution of crimes as well as in the contexts of civil law, immigration law, human rights law, and legislation drafting. In particular, they will learn that the study of language variation and change, dialectology, and sociolinguistics, all of which build upon more fundamental aspects of linguistic inquiry (syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, etc.), are of especial relevance to how scientifically valid language analysis is practised in the forensic sphere.
  • Students will be able to analyse written documents using methods developed by forensic linguists for application in casework (e.g. quantification of lexical and syntactic properties of written texts), and will be able to evaluate other linguistic artefacts, such as trademarks, with respect to the provisions and prohibitions encoded in relevant legislation.

Academic and graduate skills

  • Students completing this module will be able to compose and defend complex arguments relating to the properties of linguistic materials (chiefly in the written domain) that are of evidential significance or in some other way within the purview of forensic linguistics. They will be required to express their ideas in both oral and written forms, via the group oral presentation, the formative written assessment, and the closed examination.
  • Students will enhance their ability to work as part of a group with their peers, through in-class exercises they will perform during the weekly practical sessions, and through their preparation of the group oral presentation.
  • Students will further develop their existing abilities to exploit research resources through the library, the internet, and through soliciting advice from teaching staff.

Module content

Students on this module will be strongly encouraged to attend guest lectures organised by Dom Watt and by Kathryn Wright (York School of Law) in the Autumn term as part of the ‘Law and Language’ module, in years when that module is offered.

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
20 Minute Group Presentation
N/A 20
University - closed examination
Forensic Linguistics
2 hours 80

Special assessment rules

None

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Reassessment: Forensic Linguistics
2 hours 100

Module feedback

Students will receive feedback on their formative assessment within 2 weeks.

Students will receive feedback on their group presentation within 1 week.

Students will receive feedback on their written examination within 3 weeks.

Indicative reading

Coulthard, M. & Johnson, A. (2013, eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics. London: Routledge.

Coulthard, M., Johnson, A. & Wright, D. (2016). An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence, 2nd edn. London: Routledge.

Eades, D. (2010). Sociolinguistics and the Legal Process. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Gibbons, J. (2003). Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language in the Justice System. Oxford: Blackwell.

McMenamin, G. (2002). Forensic Linguistics: Advances in Forensic Stylistics. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press.

Shuy, R. (1996). Language Crimes: The Use and Abuse of Language Evidence in the Courtroom. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tiersma, P. (1999). Legal Language. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Tiersma, P. & Solan, L. (2012, eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.