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Review of  An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics

Reviewer: Christopher D. Sams
Book Title: An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics
Book Author: Malcolm Coulthard Alison Johnson
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Forensic Linguistics
Issue Number: 21.3272

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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.


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.

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 Tkačuková'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.

'Expert and process', 'Multilingualism in legal contexts', and 'Authorship and

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

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

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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