Thursday, March 5, 2015

Forensic Linguists Save the Day !!

See how a crack team of ninja linguists brought down the notorious Split-Infinitive Killer !
Learn how clandestine Wonderlinguists  cracked the “Dangling-Participle Strangler” case !!
Read  about the language superheroes who serve the nation  every day !!!

A typical linguist on the job

All in a day's work !!
So, check out the following article.  Especially interesting is the portrait of Rob Leonard, former vocalist for Sha Na Na, and now a "Sam Spade of semantics".

Words on Trial
Can linguists solve crimes that stump the police?
by Jack Hit

ABSTRACT: DEPT. OF LINGUISTICS about forensic linguistics. These days, the word “forensic” conjures an image of a technician on a “C.S.I.” show who delicately retrieves a hair or a paint chip from a crime scene, surmises the unlikeliest facts, and presents them to the authorities as incontrovertible evidence. If “forensic linguist” brings to mind a verbal specialist who plucks slivers of meaning from old letters and stray audiotape before announcing that the perpetrator is, say, a middle-aged insurance salesman from Philadelphia, that’s not far from the truth. Tells about the testimony of forensic linguist Robert Leonard in the 2011 murder trial of Chris Coleman. Discusses the work of James Fitzgerald, a retired F.B.I. forensic linguist who brought the field to prominence in 1996 with his work in the case of the Unabomber. Fitzgerald had successfully urged the FBI to publish the Unabomber’s “manifesto.” Many people called in to say they recognized the writing style. By analyzing syntax and other linguistic patterns, Fitzgerald narrowed down the possible authors and finally linked the manifesto to the writings of Ted Kaczynski, a reclusive former mathematician. Fitzgerald went on to formalize some of the tools used in forensic linguistics, including starting the Communicated Threat Assessment Database. The CTAD is the most comprehensive collection of linguistic patterns in written threats, containing some four thousand “criminally oriented communications” and more than a million words. The pioneer of forensic linguistics is widely considered to be Roger Shuy, a Georgetown University professor and the author of such fundamental textbooks as “Language Crimes: The Use and Abuse of Language Evidence in the Courtroom.” The field’s more recent origins might be traced to an airplane flight in 1979, when Shuy found himself talking to the lawyer sitting next to him. By the end of the flight, Shuy had a recommendation as an expert witness in his first murder case. Since then, he’s been involved in numerous cases in which forensic analysis revealed how meaning had been distorted by the process of writing or recording. In recent years, following Shuy’s lead, a growing number of linguists have applied their techniques in regular criminal cases, such Chris Coleman’s, and even certain commercial lawsuits. Mentions a suit between Apple and Microsoft over the use of the phrase “app store.” Writer visits Robert Leonard at Hofstra University and describes some of his cases, including the investigation of the murder of Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Mentions Carole Chaski, the executive director of the Institute for Linguistic Evidence and the president of Alias Technology, which markets linguistic software. Chaski has been working to perfect a computer algorithm that identifies patterns hidden in syntax.

For true-life stories of heroic Navy linguists -- click here!!

Top-flight cryptolinguists   are few and far between

Note:   Those misrenderings on the part of the Red Rascal might be other than random;  Trudeau may well have consulted a linguist to guide his choices.   Thus, that apparently undesireable “path which is asphalt”.   That is obscure to our hearing;  a paved road beats a dirt one, and there are plenty in Afghanistan which aren’t paved, or weren’t until the U.S. came in and had them paved.   But in Arabic dialects, the term zift, literally ‘asphalt, pitch’,  is used in a metaphorical negative sense.  Thus, Egyptian zayy al-zift ‘lousy’, Yemeni azfat (an elative) ‘worse’.  Perhaps Pashto has something similar.

[Update 3 March 2015]   There is more to intel than just connecting the dots.  In SIGINT, the individual dots themselves can be problematic:

A Pakistani man used a code in which women's names substituted for bomb materials when he would email with al Qaeda about a plot to kill hundreds of people in England in 2009, a U.S. prosecutor said on Monday.
Abid Naseer sent an al Qaeda operative emails with stilted language about women and a wedding, but the emails were actually about a planned car bombing, prosecutor Zainab Ahmad told jurors at the close of a federal trial in Brooklyn, New York.
The emails contained women's names like Huma and Nadia in place of bomb making materials starting with the same letter, such as hydrogen peroxide and nitrate, she said.
    "They're so coded that they're half gibberish," yet they reflected Nasser's intent to carry out an attack on al Qaeda's behalf, Ahmad said in her closing argument.
Naseer, representing himself, insisted in his closing argument that he was innocent, He said he had been "chasing women on the Internet" and planning a wedding.

[Update 5 March 2015]  This just in:

Inside the debate over whether our language choices are as distinctive as our DNA.

In an episode of the CBS show “Criminal Minds” that aired last year , an FBI team is on a frantic hunt for a missing 4-year-old. The team soon realizes that the girl has been given away by a relative, Sue, and that there’s no way Sue is going to reveal her whereabouts.
A crucial break comes when FBI profiler Alex Blake puts her “word wisdom” to work. Blake, who is also a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, notices that Sue uses an unusual turn of phrase during an interview and in a written statement: “I put the light bug on.”
The FBI team launches an Internet search and soon discovers the same misuse of “light bug” for “light bulb” in an underground adoption forum: “I’ll switch the light bug off in the car so no one will see.”

A groundbreaking murder case in Britain was decided after a linguistic analysis suggested that text messages sent from a young woman’s phone after she went missing were more likely to have been written by her killer than by her. And in Johnson County, Tenn., the outcome of the April “Facebook murders” trial may well hang, according to Assistant District Attorney General Dennis D. Brooks, on whether a linguist can convince jurors of the authorship of a slew of e-mails soliciting murder that were written, he says, under a fictitious name.

Stacey Castor, now doing time in Bedford Hills, N.Y., for murdering her husband in 2005 and attempting to murder her daughter two years later, helped give herself away, according to Fitzgerald, by misspelling — and mispronouncing — “antifreeze” as “antifree.”

See too the article “The Whole Haystrack” in The New Yorker for 26 Jan 2015.  Concerning the prosecution of a Somali-American for nefarious acts related to the terror group al-Shabaab, part of the evidence was “a Somali proverb repeatedly cited by the prosecution as evidence that he was part of the conspiracy”.

For further true-life linguistic adventures, click here:

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