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Careers in Forensic Linguistics

Updated March 23, 2017

Forensic linguistics applies the scientific study of language to the law. Specialists in this area analyse evidence and provide testimony in criminal and civil proceedings, such as those involving anonymous threats, questions of plagiarism and intellectual property issues. Forensic linguists analyse written and recorded materials, such as telephone conversations, and letters and diaries. Career opportunities for forensic linguists exist in private practice, academia and government.

Consulting

Many forensic linguists work as consultants, providing their services to law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes, and to legal professionals, providing expert testimony in such areas as confessions and voice identification. For attorneys, forensic linguists lend their expertise in civil and criminal proceedings. Forensic linguists assist police in analysing recorded and written evidence. For example, they determine whether a voice on a recording is that of the suspect. They may also analyse written documents, such as ransom letters, and reconstruct telephone conversations or text message exchanges. Forensic linguistic work, for example, helped authorities identify and arrest Theodore Kacynski as the "Unabomber," based in part on analysis of the Unabomber manifesto.

Academic Careers

Linguists with advanced degrees--masters or doctorate--in the field pursue academic careers, teaching at the university level and conducting research in the field of linguistics. Linguistic scholars may focus their research on forensic applications of linguistics. Research areas for forensic linguists range from analysing the language of written legal materials to linguistic issues of civil and criminal evidence. In addition, university linguists may also offer their services as consultants, assisting with criminal investigations and providing expert testimony in court cases.

Government

Large law enforcement and intelligence agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as state crime labs, have opportunities for forensic linguists. From the Unabomber's manifesto to the recorded materials released by Al-Qaeda terrorist leaders, the language of terrorists can provide valuable evidence as the U.S. and other nations fight international and domestic terrorism. The growth in crime labs, as local and state police rely more on scientific evidence in criminal cases, may create more opportunities for forensic linguist specialists.

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About the Author

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.