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Basic Forensic Linguistic Skills: How Text Sensitive Are You?

By: Dr. Alan Perlman
Tel: (603) 899-3043
Email Dr. Perlman

A forensic linguist must be exquisitely sensitive to nuances of text. Where a synonym exists, the very choice of each word represents a decision on the part of the author. Superimposed upon that is the way the word is spelled, abbreviated or capitalized. Truly, a text is a tangle of choices.

The following are intended to test your potential as a forensic linguist. There are two exercises from Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language, Crime and the Law, by John Olsson (New York: Continuum, 2004).

(1) From page 193:

Note ALL peculiarities in the following text.

This chapter is about the improving of your forensic skills. Your first and foremost important skill is the observation of text, whether written or spoken, wether text or numbers, such such as the sum of $123,453.78. What this necessitates is, in the first instance, the ability to observe what it is a text is comprised of, and secondly, the ability to transcribe text with total accurately. Your need to be very aware of any idiosyncrasies the writer has, such as unconventual spellings, capitalizing, underlinings, ect. It is necessary to honour the text.

You should have found at least five. Feel free to email me with the correct answers.

(2) From page 195:

Below are two versions of a speech by Nelson Mandela. The second, according to Olsson, is more accurate, because it was taken directly from a recording. Note at least four important differences (and email them to me).

(a) During my lifetime dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. Is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

(b) During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.


Dr. Alan Perlman, is a forensic expert who offers clients exceptional quality, experience, and expertise. He is an academically trained linguist, one of a small number of linguistics experts who assist the legal professions.

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