Students & teachers English Language workshop on forensic linguistics

Date: Monday 1 July 2019, 11:00am to 3:00pm
Venue: Lancaster University (Room TBC), Lancaster, UK
Open to: Public
Registration: Free to attend - registration required

Event Details

How can linguistics – the scientific study of language – contribute to crime investigation, judicial procedure and trials? Which methods are used in the application of linguistics to such legal contexts? What can this field teach us about English more generally? These are some of the questions that will be answered in the one-day workshop we are organising

  • Monday 1 July 2019
  • from 11:00 until 15:00 (with an optional campus tour until 16:00)
  • at Lancaster University
  • for current Year 10 to 13 students and their teachers
  • free of charge.

The sessions, which are all taught by experts in forensic linguistics, include:

  • Forensic linguistics: How did it all begin?
  • Catching a killer with forensic linguistics
  • Lie detection: The theory, the research and the reality
  • Pressure-cooked pets and a ban on bagpipes: How to spot misleading and fake news

Note that none of the sessions will involve needlessly explicit details about the legal cases under examination but that, overall, some of the topics may be distressing for sensitive audience members. Discretion is therefore strongly advised.

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Forensic linguistics: How did it all begin?

Willem Hollmann

Forensic linguistics is a relatively new sub-area of linguistics. It can in, some sense,be traced back to Jan Svartvik's 1968 study of the so-called Evans Statements,the statements made by Timothy Evans to the police, following the tragic murder, in 1949, of his wife and little daughter. We will look in some detail at the language used by Evans and at the arguments put forward by Svartvik in favour of the establishment of this exciting novel branch of linguistics. In preparation for the session, you may want to watch the 2016 BBC miniseries Rillington Place or the classic 1971 film 10 Rillington Place.

Catching a killer with forensic linguistics

Claire Hardaker

In 2005,19-year-old Jenny Nicholl tells her parents that she will be staying at a friend’s house that night, and leaves the house. She never returns. In the following days, family and friends receive texts from her phone telling them that she has decided to run away. Her parents are immediately suspicious and report her missing. As the investigation gathers momentum, however, police are faced with a chilling question: did Jenny write the texts sent after she left? Or were they, as the police are beginning to suspect, the work of a killer? In this session, you will analyse real life data taken from Jenny Nicholl’s murder trial. Your goal: identify the author of the suspicious text messages.

Lie detection: The theory, the research and the reality

Mathew Gillings

How good do you think you are at spotting a liar? Are you bang-on every time or are your sleuthing skills in need of some work? In this session, you will learn about the psychological processes that occur when we lie and how it differs depending on the size of the lie and who we are lying to. You will learn about research that has been carried out into how we can detect liars based on their linguistic choices. For example, liars tend to use fewer first person pronouns when they are speaking, tend to pause more often and tend to beat around the bush more than someone who is telling the truth. Finally, you will learn about some of the problems with lie detection and see for yourself just how difficult it is to catch a liar.

Pressure-cooked pets and a ban on bagpipes: How to spot misleading and fake news

William Dance

How would you feel if cheese was being banned? Or, if you found out that Kendal Jenner was a shapeshifting lizard? Angry, annoyed, shocked? These are all examples of fake news stories, news stories that are intentionally false to appeal to people’s emotions. Fake news stories are becoming more and more popular because of social media and it can sometimes be difficult to tell the truth from the fakes. This session will be a fully interactive fact checking demonstration to show you how to use different resources to verify or debunk claims on the internet and how to develop your critical and analytical abilities so you can help stop fake news in its tracks.

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