Forensic linguistics

Nicci MacLeod*, David Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


Broadly speaking, forensic linguistics is the application of linguistic theory and method to any point at which there is an interface between language and the law, encompassing the use of language analysis as evidence in court or as an investigative tool. This chapter explores the interface between forensic linguistics and digital methods in the collection and analysis of linguistic evidence, particularly in relation to questions of authorship. We describe the different processes through which digital approaches have become embedded in the forensic investigation of language use, and by drawing on two ongoing projects, we cast light on the empirical potential afforded by digital methods, tools and texts to researchers seeking to improve the standard of evidence and investigative assistance that forensic linguists can offer.

Both of the projects described highlight the benefits of applying analytical methods originating from discourse analysis and sociolinguistics to substantial collections of digital texts in order to answer forensically-relevant questions. The chapter concludes with some thoughts on future directions for forensic linguistics, including the harnessing of the power of digital humanities in the collection of relevant population data. The wider availability of population data would be a ‘game-changer’ in authorship analysis, both in research and casework. In a purely research context, the availability and accessibility of such corpora would allow forensic linguists to test their methods of authorship analysis in lab conditions before taking them to the police or to court. From a solely linguistic perspective, such analysis would help in making new discoveries with regard to the composition of individual style and idiolects across text types. The benefits to casework are greater still, as such datasets could provide the all-important base rate knowledge required to bolster the reliability of stylistic approaches to authorship cases.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of English Language and Digital Humanities
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781003031758
ISBN (Print)9781138901766
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2020


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