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Date: Sun, 26 Sep 2004 14:49:44 -0700 (PDT) From: Blake Stephen Howald Subject: Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language, Crime and the Law
Author: Olsson, John Title: Forensic Linguistics Subtitle: An Introduction to Language, Crime and the Law Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. Year: 2004
Blake Stephen Howald, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
Forensic Linguistics by John Olsson is "intended to be the core text for forensic linguistic courses at [the] undergraduate level, and the key text for postgraduate research students wishing to gain an overall grasp of the subject." (from the cover) Olsson takes the reader-student through the various foci of applied forensic linguistics, supplementing the highlighted areas with contemporary texts and examples from actual criminal cases.
Forensic linguistics is hard to define for many linguists. This is primarily so because the majority of contributors are law enforcement practitioners rather than academic linguists. Areas of study as diverse as graphology, document examination, voice print analysis, psycholinguistic threat analysis, language rights, stylistics and interrogation, fall under the heading of forensic linguistics (McMenamin 2002: 67-107). Consequently, due to the lack of a normalized definition coupled with a lacunae of understanding between academic linguists and law enforcement practitioners, the field of forensic linguistics has acquired a stigma of being more art than science. John Olsson's Forensic Linguistics, An Introduction to Language, Crime and the Law, is a breakthrough text in that Olsson, who is both practitioner and academic linguist, acceptingly embraces the current state of forensic linguistics as a field with many subdisciplines while simultaneously lobbying for the concomitant need to close the gap of misunderstanding between linguist and practitioner with an eye toward integration of the field.
Olsson remarks that the text "is intended to be the core text for forensic linguistic courses at [the] undergraduate level, and the key text for postgraduate research students wishing to gain an overall gasp of the subject." (Cover) I agree that the text accomplishes this overall aim with the caveat that the target audience is clearly the student seeking an overall education in the forensic sciences or criminal justice rather than the student of traditional academic linguistics. Olsson gives a comprehensive treatment of the main subdisciplines of the forensic linguistic practitioner. Furthermore, Olsson is not only cognizant of where each subdiscipline fits within the larger modern framework of forensic linguistics which provides an overall effective introduction to the field, but also of where forensic linguistics fits within the legal community. Olsson provides an excellent discussion on the legal sufficiency of expert testimony evidence in the American courts coupled with a comparative survey of other nations where forensic linguistics is used in the legal system.
This is not to say, however, that the text will not be of use to the academic linguist who may or may not ever have to interact with the legal system; quite the contrary. The academic linguist will easily be able to find areas of interest within the sub-disciplines that are in need of further research and attention at the undergraduate and certainly the postgraduate level. To date, the major contributions to forensic linguistics by academic linguists have been in forensic phonetics (Baldwin and French 1990), discourse analysis (Shuy 1993, 1998 and Coulthard 1994), and sylistics (McMenamin 2002). Olsson lends due deference to the contributions of these linguists to the field of forensic linguistics, despite forgoing treatment of subjects such as pragmatics and discourse analysis. Despite Olsson's expertise in academic linguistics, however, there is failure to integrate some of the fundamental concepts of linguistics to the practical elements of forensic linguistics outlined in the text. This seems paradoxical at times as the chapter devoted to forensic phonetics is very carefully written, is replete with understanding of advanced concepts and is not intimidating to a non-linguist. However, other chapters, such as authorship and the emergency phone call analysis in the forensic text types chapter are peppered with off-the- cuff references such as Wernike's Aphasia (164) and Grice's Maxims (95) which have no explanation, no cited reference, and, in the case of Wernike's Aphasia, have no relevant foundation for the topic under discussion. This is unfortunate as a logical function of the text is arguably to enlighten both the academic and the practitioner. Instances such as those mentioned are contrary to this function. If the goal is indeed to unify forensic linguistics between practitioner and academic, it is essential to provide the non-academic linguist with the academic theory behind the subdisciplines within the field and vice versa.
As mentioned above, forensic linguistics has integrated other disciplines such as psychology into traditional analysis. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of statement analysis and veracity detection which necessarily involves motives of an individual author. Olsson does draw upon his experiences as part of his analysis, which is both relevant and well founded. There is a potential for this type of analysis to alienate the academic linguist who may be more based in the scientific method and want more clarification for what may be experiential assumptions no matter how well founded they are. That is not to say that Olsson does not approach the analysis from a scientific viewpoint, nor to say that he doesn't do an excellent job of focusing on the strictly linguistic aspects of statement analysis and veracity detection: time, aspect, tense, sequence, etc. Furthermore, consistent with the practical aim of the text, the examples and methods of analysis in this chapter demonstrate Olsson's expertise and understanding of the fundamental concepts of statement analysis. (For further discussion on statement analysis see Sapir 1987).
Olsson certainly lends appropriate weight to the systematic approach to analyzing forensic texts (especially in authorship and plagiarism inquiries) and the associated statistical methods necessary to these techniques. However, there is a drawback to Olsson's decision to provide a brief introduction to statistics. Olsson seeks to make the definition and application of statistical methods such as t-tests, NOVA, ANOVA, and chi-square, simple and easy to grasp. Unfortunately his attempt comes across as awkward and disruptive of the chapter in which it is contained. A treatment of statistics is essential for a proper survey of stylistics and authorship sampling, but if a straightforward, no nonsense approach to statistics is going to be implemented, it should be done by a statistician and possibly in a separate chapter rather than integrated, which can be distracting from the subject matter of the chapter. (for example, McMenamin devotes a separate chapter to statistics, which feels more appropriate.) Olsson does point out, however that any student of forensic linguistics should take the time to enroll in a statistics course. Olsson also needs to point out that any student of forensic linguistics should take the time to enroll in introductory linguistics, sociolinguistics, phonetics, and discourse analysis.
If we are going to move toward linguistics as a forensic discipline, then there must be less reliance on non-linguistic explanation and poorly founded linguistic interpretations that fail to understand the fundamentals of academic linguistics. Otherwise the techniques and analyses will continue to have an unscientific stigma, especially in the American courts. The text runs the risk of educating the practitioner target audience in misunderstandings about the field of linguistics which may ultimately inhibit the development of the field. Current trends in American courts toward expert testimony lend an increasing reliance on common acceptance of the science behind the forensic techniques. If the practitioners of forensic linguistics fail to understand the science behind linguistics, the process of expert testimony is undermined. Fortunately, for both linguist and practitioner, the text provides enough fodder for extensive continued research that the academic linguist should fervently develop.
Overall, the text is well rounded, accurate, and relevant to the student of forensic linguistics. Additionally, the smooth flow of the text is complemented by timely examples and problems that make the text completely self-contained (much like the internet course offered by Olsson: www.thetext.co.uk). Completion of the text from start to finish will leave the student with an introduction to the practical aspects of forensic linguistics. Future editions should not shy away from implementing more traditional academic linguistics into the text as it is not only appropriate but necessary for the ultimate understanding of the field. Forensic linguistics is moving into new and exciting directions and this text is the first and only comprehensive treatment of the subject to date that makes accurate assertions about where the many sub-disciplines of forensic linguistics fit with each other and within the field as a whole. The academic linguist should seek to develop the techniques in the book and focus on research to supplement the field. Similarly, the student of the forensic sciences should seek to become acquainted with traditional linguistics, beyond an understanding of grammar, in order to become a more well-rounded practitioner. Olsson's text provides the long awaited bridge to facilitate this cohesiveness that will lead to a more comprehensive and accurate field.
REFERENCES Baldwin, J. R. and P. French (1990) Forensic Phonetics. Pinter Publishers.
Coulthard, M. (1994) Forensic Discourse Analysis. Advances in Written Text Analysis, pp. 242-58. Routledge.
McMenamin, Gerald R. (2002) Forensic Linguistics: Advances in Forensic Stylistics. CRC Press LLC.
Sapir, A. (1987) The LSI Course on Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN). Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation.
Shuy, Roger W. (1993) Language Crimes: The Use and Abuse of Language Evidence in the Courtroom. Blackwell.
Shuy, Roger W. (1998) The Language of Confession, Interrogation, and Deception. Sage Publications.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Blake Stephen Howald graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh in 2001. After spending a year researching the field of forensic linguistics, Mr. Howald entered the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law where he is a second-year law student. Mr. Howald concentrates on law and logic, law and linguistics, and litigation techniques. Upon completion of his Juris Doctor, Mr. Howald is considering post-graduate study in the field of forensic linguistics.