MA Linguistics

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Forensic Linguistics

Unit code LELA71631
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course introduces students to forensic linguistics and, more specifically, to the use of linguistics to provide evidence in criminal or civil cases. When language becomes evidence in a forensic case, a linguist can be called as an expert witness regarding various matters, such as, for example, the authorship of a text, the meaning of a particular word or phrase, or the modality of production of a text. The use of linguistic knowledge and methods can provide these answers and the aim of the course is to demonstrate how this can be done. Through the use of lectures and seminars, the course will develop the theoretical and applied knowledge for the students to carry out forensic linguistic analyses on real cases. In addition, students will learn the implications of this type of work for the field of linguistics in general.


The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:

•          To learn how to apply linguistics to solve forensic problems

•          To know the state of the art of forensic linguistics

•          To understand basic concepts of individuality in language production

•          To be able to choose the correct linguistic techniques for the analysis of an applied problems

•          To understand the most important linguistic characteristics of forensic texts


The syllabus below is an indication only:


Week 1. Introduction

Week 2. The birth of Forensic Linguistics

Week 3. Idiolect and uniqueness of encoding

Week 4. Authorship analysis

Week 5. Textual borrowing and plagiarism

Week 6. Language crimes

Week 7. Using sociolinguistics in forensic cases

Week 8. Determination of meaning in criminal cases

Week 9. Determination of meaning in civil cases

Week 10. Trademark disputes

Week 11. Revision

Teaching and learning methods

The teaching for the course will include lectures and a seminar in which a real-life case will be examined using the techniques and tools currently adopted by forensic linguists. Students will work independently on this case and report on their work during each seminar.

Knowledge and understanding

• Have an understanding of the basic methodologies to analyse texts in a forensic context

• Have an understanding of the register characteristics of malicious forensic texts

• Know the history of forensic linguistics

• Know the main findings related to key cases in forensic linguistics

• Understand the state of the art of individuality in language production

Intellectual skills

• Critically evaluate the literature regarding forensic linguistics

• Critically evaluate conclusions of a forensic linguistic analysis

• Be able to describe the language of a malicious forensic text

• Develop professional knowledge in the application of linguistic theory to naturally occurring texts

Practical skills

• Apply linguistic methods to solve forensic problems

• Develop professional knowledge in the analysis of texts for forensic purposes

• Develop general knowledge of the provision of evidence in court

Transferable skills and personal qualities

• Develop general problem solving skills

• Develop the verbal and written abilities to express conclusions

• Be able to apply linguistic theories to solve real-word problems

• Develop general knowledge of investigation procedures 

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Problem solving

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Portfolio 80%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Seminar discussion


Written feedback for coursework



Recommended reading

Coulthard, M., & Johnson, A. 2007. An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics. London: Routledge


McMenamin, G. R. 2002. Forensic Linguistics: Advances in Forensic Stylistics. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press.


Olsson, J. 2003. Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language, Crime and the Law. London: Continuum.


Shuy, R. 1996. Language Crimes: Use and Abuse of Language Evidence in the Court Room. Oxford: Blackwell.


Solan, L. M., & Tiersma. P. M. 2005. Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Practical classes & workshops 5
Independent study hours
Independent study 123

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andrea Nini Unit coordinator

Additional notes


With this course, students will learn skills that can be useful for applied linguistics and legal or investigative jobs. The kinds of skills used to analyse forensic texts can enhance the students’ problem solving and critical abilities in employing linguistic theories to solve applied problems. As such, this course can help students to creatively employ their knowledge. Through the learning of the legal process and the role of linguistics in it, students can develop skills to then work within legal settings. Above all, students will learn how to carry out independent research and to solve real-life problems.



Previous knowledge of corpus linguistics and sociolinguistics (to be discussed with module convenor).

Return to course details