Wordcrime: Solving Crime Through Forensic Linguistics (Anglais) Broché – 16 février 2012
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Revue de presse
--David Crystal is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University, UK. --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
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This isn't handwriting analysis. Nor is it exactly like the kinds of attribution studies that scholars have been doing for a long time in order to determine such questions as "Did Shakespeare really write all those plays?" Rather, Olsson's work is geared strictly toward giving impartial testimony in court, so it calls for both legal and linguistic knowledge.
I had my attention called to this new discipline in an episode of TV's "Forensic Files." It seemed like a fascinating subject for anyone interested in writing, or in the meaning and nuances of words. As a result, I immediately bought this book, as well as Olson's textbook on the subject. Of the two books, "Word Crime" is aimed more at a general audience. Each chapter is a case study that describes some of the principles Olsson used in reaching a conclusion about certain contested statements.
The chapters cover an amazingly wide range of topics. They include Olsson's analysis of both written and audio sources. Had a "suicide" note found beside a woman's body really been written by that woman - or did her husband write it to disguise a murder? Was a witness' statement spontaneous - or did his account have the earmarks of having been fed to him by police questioners? Were the charges of genocide made by two Rwandan women against one of their countrymen firsthand accounts - or were they based on hearsay? Was bestseller "The DaVinci Code" plagiarized by author Dan Brown - or is it original work? (In this last particularly interesting case, Olsson refrains from spelling out what opinion he rendered, leaving readers to form their own conclusion.)
In general, this book didn't dampen my enthusiasm for pursuing the subject matter further. However sometimes Olsson's writing is a bit stuffy and uninspired. Some of the conclusions he rather laboriously arrives at seem obvious. Also, some of the cases he cites don't seem to warrant the analytic lengths he went to in order to render an opinion. For example, there's the case of the airplane pilot who had his flyers' Club privileges revoked and his plane and hangar confiscated when his fellow plane enthusiasts thought he was the author of some bitingly satirical articles about the Club in the local newspaper.
Olsson also sometimes contradicts himself from one study to the next. In one place he warns that it's now deemed to be unproductive to use concordances in which you total up the number of times a word appears in a contested document as compared to a known document. However, then Olsson tells how he used various corpuses (similar to concordances) and also just simple Google searches to see how often a particular phrase appears in general usage. It's the same when it comes to considering the average length of sentences and the richness of the vocabulary used in two documents up for comparison. At first Olsson says such factors are "not indicative" of authorship, but in subsequent case studies he uses those very factors to help him reach an opinion.
In other cases, Olsson appears to be somewhat biased, contrary to the strict code of conduct that any forensic scientist is supposed to follow. He reports the cases in which the courts or judges rendered decisions contrary to his recommendations, and in some of these cases, the reader might feel the courts were in the right. Also, many of these studies were conducted in England and so are based on questions of jurisprudence and police procedure that might be foreign to many American readers.
But on the whole, this material is a real find. It opens a door to a whole new field of study. Better yet, it will likely sensitize readers to phrasing and nuance. Did the witness say, "I saw 'the' cut on his arm" - or "I saw 'a' cut on his arm"? That difference can make all the difference.
Be sure to take advantage of the glossary at the end of the book that explains the more technical meaning of many of the terms that Olsson uses.
Each of the twenty-three chapters describes a case the author has contributed to as a forensic linguist. He has selected each one to illustrate particular aspects of his work. "My aim is not primarily to tell a good story, but to illustrate how interesting and complex language is, and how powerful a resource it can be when it enters the arena of the law." All of the cases are worth reading. These three are reasonably representative:
Chapter 4, "Is The Da Vinci Code a Plagiarism?" examines an accusation that Dan Brown "borrowed without permission" major plot elements of his bestseller from another writer's book. Olsson addresses this question by examining the order in which the plot elements occur in each book. He also looks at instances where both authors made the same unusual or erroneous word choices. Olsson reports the legal outcome and invites readers to form their own conclusions.
In Chapter 8, "Murder or Suicide," Olsson is hired by the family of a young man who has apparently committed suicide and left a suicide note for his family. Suspicious circumstances lead his family suspect the man was murdered and the note forged by the killer. In reaching his conclusions, Olsson considers both characteristic features of the young man's writing and the tone and content typical of authentic suicide notes.
Chapter 20, "Return to Sender," occurs in the context of a woman's claim that she was sexually assaulted by her psychotherapist. As this trial approached the city's Social Welfare Division received an anonymous letter asserting that the woman suffered from several specific psychological disorders and was unfit to care for her children. Olsson's analysis addressed the scarcity of psychology terminology in everyday language and included a word choice comparison between the letter and the therapist's patient notes.
Each chapter tells an engaging story and showcases at least one linguistic analysis technique. Good reading, a good introduction to the forensic linguistics specialty, and a well-crafted invitation to learn more from the author's weighty text. Nicely done, Dr. Olsson!
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