English and drama

Forensic Linguistics

Module code: Q1085
Level 6
15 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Workshop, Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

In this module we look at the interaction between linguistics and the law and more specifically we focus on the face-threatening strategies of deception, manipulation and aggression. This is a practical module in which we study the ways that linguistics can be applied in non-academic contexts. We start by examining the role of the linguist as an expert witness in the legal system and in this section we focus on the use of stylistics in investigating disputed authorship, for instance in missing person cases. We also examine and evaluate research into linguistic markers of deception.

In the second part of the module we analyse the language used in the legal process with a particular focus on courtroom discourse and police interviews. You will visit a courtroom and report back on the language practices you observed. We will describe the norms of courtroom discourse with particular reference to the pragmatic and discourse features. Subsequently, we focus on the ways in which certain groups may be linguistically disadvantaged in that process and how they are, or could be, protected from discrimination.

In the final part we briefly address the ways in which the law is applied to language, for instance in determining what counts as hate speech or libel.

Module learning outcomes

  • Critically appraise different linguistic approaches to authorship attribution and identification of deception.
  • Describe the dynamics of interactions in police interviews/courtroom discourse with reference to pragmatic and narrative features.
  • Discuss the ways in which particular social groups may be linguistically disadvantaged by the structure of courtroom discourse.
  • Identify the linguistic features which contribute to a perception of complexity in legal language.