Leading the Way on Legal Talk Part 2

Leading the Way on Legal Talk Part 2

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Last week we introduced you to the relationship between language and the law.

Last week we introduced you to the relationship between language and the law.

We talked about how words legitimise laws and were stunned to learn how this affects us all and helps in the fight against crime.

Admittedly it all sounded a bit confusing, but luckily we had an expert on hand to help and tell us more about Forensic Linguistics: the academic study of language and the law.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the legal lingo, Ann Ellis from Edge Hill University is back to tell us more about Forensic Linguistics as a career, and explain how our course can set you on the right path.

Why would people be interested in completing our Forensic Linguistics course?  

Well there is so much to interest people. If you imagine the study of Forensic Science, wherever you go, you leave behind traces of yourselves: DNA from skins cell, sweat and hair; fingerprints, clothing fibres. Similarly, when you write or speak, you leave information about yourself: traces of dialect, evidence of your social class, ethnic origin, education, and your job. This course empowers you to look at language in this way and equips you with the skills needed to analyse it for the purpose of criminal investigations.

Understanding how language works at this level is a powerful tool that you can use in all areas of your life. Your own writing and communication skills are likely to become more effective as a result.

This course will also be ideal preparation for a wide range of university courses, such as forensic science and English. The materials will also give you a great head start, should you wish to take things further with a Master’s degree in Forensic Linguistics.

Who would benefit from completing the course?

Because forensic linguistics is a wide ranging discipline, it would appeal to a large number of people, including those who are interested or involved in the legal system e.g.  investigators (past students have included private investigators, police officers, social workers, trading standards officers, fire investigators) as well as people who are interested in forensic sciences, writers and those who are interested in English study.

What advice would you give to someone who is completing this course and is interested in going into forensic linguistics as a career?

Become the best linguist you can by absorbing yourself in the subject and taking note of how language is used in all different areas in life, whether it be conversations with friends, social networking, legal documents, political speeches etc.

You can join the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL). Their conferences and journals will keep you up to date with the latest developments in the discipline. Also, look out for free lectures at universities (Aston University for example has lectures and seminars in its Centre for Forensic Linguistics) this can be a good opportunity to see experts in the field as well as research being done by other students.

When you have the qualifications you need, remember that work with the police is not the only option for a forensic linguist. A trawl of the Internet will give you a picture of the different areas that a forensic linguist can work in.

Ann is the author of our Forensic Linguistics course and has over ten years’ experience teaching students in this area. She has passion for the subject has included the following teaser to see if this might also be up your street…


Just as you leave DNA and fingerprints behind when you leave a room, when you write or speak, you leave vital forensic information about yourself behind.

Try it for yourself.

The text below is a ransom note from a real kidnapping in America. What can you say about the writer?

Do you ever want to see your precious little girl again? Put $10,000 cash in a diaper bag. Put it in the green trash kan on the devil strip at corner 18th and Carlson. Don’t bring anybody along. No kops!! Come alone! I’ll be watching you all the time. Anyone with you, deal is off and dautter is dead!!!

Highlight below to check your answer


You might have noticed that the writer makes a lot of spelling mistakes – kops, kan, dautter. What are the reasons for this? You might have considered the following:

The use of ‘k’ instead of ‘c’ in kan and kops might suggest that the writer’s first language is not English – if so you need to look at other ‘k’ sounds. Are they also represented with a ‘k’? the answer is no – Carlson, cash and come are all represented by a ‘c’

Perhaps you think the writer is not well educated – this does not seem to be the case because other complex words such as precious and diaper are spelled correctly. We can perhaps conclude that the mistakes were made on purpose to mislead the police.

The police had several suspect but could not be sure which was the kidnapper. Roger Shuy, the linguist who analysed this text for the police asked if one of the suspects was a reasonably well educated from Akron, Ohio. As it happens, they did. The man was arrested and admitted to the charge. But how did Shuy Know where the man was from? The answer lies in the term ‘devil strip’. It is the name given to the grass verge, only in Akron, Ohio – the kidnapper’s dialect showed through in his writing.

Alongside her work at Edge Hill University, Ann has developed a course for NCC Home Learning. Our Diploma in Forensic Linguistics allows you to indulge your interest.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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