LINGUIST List 21.3272

Sat Aug 14 2010

Review: Forensic Linguistics; Applied Ling.: Coulthard & Johnson (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.    Christopher Sams, The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics

Message 1: The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics
Date: 13-Aug-2010
From: Christopher Sams <>
Subject: The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics
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EDITORS: Coulthard, Malcolm & Johnson, Alison TITLE: The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics SERIES TITLE: Handbooks in Applied Linguistics PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2010

Christopher D. Sams, Department of English, Stephen F. Austin State University


The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics, edited by Malcolm Coulthard and Alison Johnson, is a collection of 37 articles divided into three major sections: 'The language of the law and the legal process', 'The linguist as expert in legal processes', and 'New debates and directions'. Each of the major sections is further subdivided into subsections (according to theme) as indicated in the summary section below. The average article length is 10-20 pages, and each article contains references or further readings immediately following the article. The volume also includes introductory and concluding remarks by the editors. Coulthard and Johnson include a list of tables and figures, affiliations and biographies of the contributors, and a glossary of standardized conventions used. This volume is accessible to undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students who have an interest forensic linguistics, whether well-established or new to the field. As the editors mention in the introduction, the book is truly a handbook, not a substitute for the several introductory textbooks available.


I: THE LANGUAGE OF THE LAW AND THE LEGAL PROCESS has four subsections: 'Legal language', 'Participants in police investigations, interviews, and interrogation', 'Courtroom genres', and 'Lay participants in the judicial process'.

1.1 LEGAL LANGUAGE. In 'Socio-pragmatic aspects of legal talk: police interviews and trial discourse', Elizabeth Holt and Alison Johnson focus their attention on the role of the question in spoken legal discourse and how questions contribute to the facts of a legal story or police interview.

In 'Specification in legislative writing: accessibility, transparency, power and control', Vijay K. Bhatia presents work on how clear legal language can be used to assign power and control to different legal institutions.

In 'Complex documents/average and not-so-average readers', Gail Stygall argues for the improvement of legal language, perhaps in part by using ''Plain English standards'' for testimony and expert explanations.

Edward Finegan's chapter on 'Corpus linguistic approaches to 'legal language': adverbial expression of attitude and emphasis in Supreme Court opinions' uses the corpus of Supreme Court opinions (COSCO) to argue for more precise use of legal language.

In 'Translating legal language', Deborah Cao presents evidence on the inconsistencies that arise from legal translation between languages.

1.2 PARTICIPANTS IN POLICE INVESTIGATIONS, INTERVIEWS, AND INTERROGATION. Paul Drew and Traci Walker's chapter 'Requesting assistance in calls to the police' examines the lexico-syntactic form of requests based on the extent of the degree the caller feels they are entitled to the service being provided.

'Curtailing coercion in police interrogation: the failed promise of Miranda v. Arizona' by Janet Ainsworth is a look at how despite the widespread use of the Miranda rights, suspects still are susceptible to police coercion when being interrogated by law enforcement.

Frances Rock's chapter 'Collecting oral evidence: the police, the public and the written word' focuses on the textual evidence that is the product of police interviews and how it influences the legal system.

Kelly Benneworth's chapter, 'Negotiating paedophilia in the Benneworth', focuses on the interview style police use in interrogating paedophiliacs.

In ''I advise you not to answer that question': conversation analysis, legal interaction and the analysis of lawyers' turns in police interrogations of suspects', Elizabeth Stokoe and Derek Edwards use conversations analysis to take a closer look at the contribution of lawyers in police interviews.

Kate Haworth's 'Police interviews as evidence' investigates the crucial role that police-suspect interviews play as evidence.

1.3 COURTROOM GENRES. In 'A diachronic investigation of English courtroom practice', Dawn Archer examines English courtroom practices dating to 1640, as well as famous courtroom personalities such as Judge Jeffreys and William Garrow.

Chris Heffer's 'Constructing crime stories in court' is a study of how and why narratives emerge in the courtroom.

In 'The creation of contrastive closing arguments', Laura Felton Rosulek examines the importance of closing arguments by both parties and their importance to discourse analysis.

Nancy Schweda Nicholson's chapter, 'Convicted murderers' allocutions or leniency pleas at sentencing hearings' examines the various linguistic and literary techniques used by murderers in the pleas for leniency.

1.4 LAY PARTICIPANTS IN THE JUDICIAL PROCESS. In 'Redrafting California's jury instructions', Peter Tiersma presents arguments for the need to ensure that instructions given to jurors are consistent.

In Susan Ehrlich's chapter, 'The discourse of rape trials', she demonstrates how cross-examining lawyers can incorporate elements of questioning into their cross-examination to undermine the creditability of the complainant.

Mel Greenlee's chapter, 'Sociolinguistic issues in gang-related prosecutions: homies, hearsay, and expert standards', examines how fluid the language of gangs is over time.

'Vulnerable witnesses in the criminal justice system' by Michelle Aldridge explores (in a global context) the need for an atmosphere in which vulnerable witnesses (such as children) can testify and be viewed as reliable.

In 'A jihadi heart and mind? Strategic repackaging of a possibly false confession in an anti-terrorism trial in California', Gillian Grebler explores the manipulating power of narration.

Tatiana Tka?ukov√°'s 'Cross-examination questioning: lay people as cross examiners' is a look at self-represented litigants' language and, in particular, their use of closed questions.

II: THE LINGUIST AS EXPERT IN LEGAL PROCESSES contains three subsections: 'Expert and process', 'Multilingualism in legal contexts', and 'Authorship and opinion'.

2.1 EXPERT AND PROCESS. Ronald R. Butters' chapter, 'Trademarks: Language that one owns' examines the linguistics of trademarks as well as its uses and abuses in today's society.

'Composition, identification, and assessment of adequacy' by Bethany K. Dumas explores the complexity of consumer warnings and the role that context plays in their interpretation.

In 'Forensic speaker identification by experts', Michael Jessen gives an overview of modern forensic phonetics, especially relating to speaker profiling and speaker comparison.

In 'The expert linguist meets the adversarial system', Lawrence M. Solan offers solutions to the false conceptions that the legal system has about science as well as how to strengthen the reliability of the methods used by forensic linguistics.

2.2 MULTILINGUALISM IN LEGAL CONTEXTS. Diana Eades' article, 'Language analysis and asylum cases,' explores the practice of Linguistic Analysis in the Determination of Origin (LADO).

'Assessing non-native speaking detainees' English language proficiency' by Fiona English is a look at the methods of evaluation to determine the level of English proficiency of non-native English speakers.

In Sandra Hale's chapter, 'The need to raise the bar: Court interpreters as specialized experts', she examines evidence that demonstrates how the lack of 'precision' language in monolingual speakers presents problems, and that these types of problems are exacerbated in bilingual situations.

''A shattered mirror?' Interpreting in legal contexts outside the courtroom' by Krzysztof Kredens and Ruth Morris demonstrates the need for competent, trained interpreters.

2.3 AUTHORSHIP AND OPINION In Malcolm Coulthard's chapter, 'Experts and opinions: in my opinion', he examines the use of Daubert (which entails having and demonstrating a known error rate of a particular scientific method) in the UK for establishing what constitutes credible expert opinion.

Gerald R. McMenamin's chapter, 'Theory and practice of forensic stylistics', examines ideas essential to the study of forensic stylistics, such as qualification and style-marker identification.

'Txt 4n6: Idiolect free authorship analysis?' by Tim Grant examines a method of determining authorship but also proposes that examining sociolinguistic factors may prove fruitful.

'Four forensic linguists' responses to suspected plagiarism', by Malcolm Coulthard, Alison Johnson, Krzysztof Kredens, and David Woolls, examines six case studies of ways in which authors plagiarize and the methods used to determine whether or not they are cases of plagiarism.

III: NEW DEBATES AND NEW DIRECTIONS contains three chapters.

In Gregory M. Matoesian's chapter, 'Multimodal aspects of victim's narrative in direct examination', he examines how participants utilized gaze, gesture, and talk in forming their narratives.

'Linguistics and terrorism cases' by Roger W. Shuy looks at how law enforcement can be biased toward believing that people who they take to have Arab appearance or an Arabic name will be terrorists. 

David Woolls' chapter, 'Searching for similarity in large specialised corpora', presents a study that demonstrates the limitations of using computational tools in forensic analysis.

'Cross-cultural communication' by Peter R.A. Gray, is an examination of the lack of cross-cultural communication between lawyers and forensic linguists, focusing on Australia.


The core content of this volume consists of articles which are on the cutting edge of Forensic Linguistic research. They are also quite specific in scope and utilize both well-attested and novel methodologies to analyze actual, current data (some of which are drawn from corpora). As I mentioned earlier, the book is intended to be used as a handbook, not as a textbook. As a matter of fact, I am teaching a course in Forensic Linguistics this fall and I am requiring an introduction to Forensic Linguistics text. Students must also pick an article from this volume which interests them and present it to the class which will give them experience in dealing with more focused material. Due to the large span of material covered, they should have no trouble selecting an article which fits their particular area of interest in Forensics. A major strength of this handbook is the vast academic and professional background of all of these contributors; this volume will certainly advance dialogue not just between linguists, but also among judges, court recorders and interpreters, lawyers, police, and other members of law enforcement. This collaboration will bolster new ideas and hybrid methodologies for future work in Forensic Linguistic analysis.

In terms of the selection of articles, there is a wide variety of subjects covered, not to mention an ample representation of scholars with backgrounds in law, phonetics, grammar, conversation analysis, and discourse analysis, to name a few. The articles are equally accessible to linguists and non linguists alike.

One of the most outstanding features of this volume is the organization. The editors and contributors have taken great care in organizing it in a clear, logical manner. There are also many connections that can be made between chapters and sections. In addition, all of the chapters are more or less standardized in terms of their organization (abstract, conclusion etc.), and the conventions used are consistent throughout. It is quite easy to locate articles relevant to a particular area of research.

All of the chapters are well written, concise, and informative, but it is of note that some of the articles are geographically specific, covering law specifically in the US, UK, or Australia. They are useful nonetheless (and in no way a shortcoming of the volume), but unless one is familiar with the specifics of law in the above countries, those articles may be difficult to follow without additional research.


Christopher Sams earned a Ph.D. in Romance Linguistics from SUNY Buffalo in May 2009 and holds an advanced certificate and is currently working on a Diploma in Forensic Linguistics from The Forensic Linguistics Institute in the UK. He has taught courses in Linguistics, English, Spanish, Italian, and French. His research centers around linguistic typology, Romance Linguistics, and Forensic Linguistics.

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