( 1) Interpretation of contracts, wills, laws, and other binding documents: expert judgment on clarity, meaning, comprehensibility and (un)ambiguity. What was intended to be said — and what, if anything, does the document actually say? Prenups and other contracts designed to be air-tight are exactly where writing problems occur, as people try to execute complex ideas and cover all contingencies.
Dr. Perlman analyzes specific words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and other units, including the entire document, to offer informed judgments on clarity, comprehensibility, and (un)ambiguity.
Case example: A man suffered damages from defective rental equipment; he did not know that he had released the company from liability by signing a contract that was, when quantitatively compared with everyday writing (e.g., USA Today), too complex to understand.
(2) Plagiarism: expert opinion on likelihood of plagiarism. In the Internet age, plagiarism – deliberate, dishonest appropriation of another’s words and/or ideas — is redefined. Problems occur when the traditional definitions are applied: similarity of text, which is what plagiarism tools find, is not a basis for a charge of plagiarism. It is not unique but prosaic information that is most likely copied, thus undermining the traditional charge of plagiarism. Much more is in the public domain than ever before.
Case example: The creator of an online course found it stolen and being offered – with sentence structure modified — by someone else. Dr. Perlman helped substantiate his charges.
Case examples: Dr. Perlman has defended many academic writers, from college students to law professors, against groundless charges of plagiarism, which are often based on (i) similarity of items in the public domain or (ii) misunderstanding of the institution’s quotation/paraphrase rules
(3) Copyright/trademark infringement: informed judgment on the genericity, specificity, and protectability of individual words, phrases, and brand names; assessment of linguistic similarity to evaluate infringement claims. The question here is: to what extent is the item already part of the language (unless it’s a “fanciful” term like Xerox or Xanax, the most easily protectable)? You can copyright suggestive terms like “Dawn” or “Joy,” but you can’t market a line of pants called “Pants.” Dr. Perlman also considers cases in which one company’s mark may be too similar to another’s, causing confusion — another judgment call.
Dr. Perlman helps attorneys define the semantic points at issue, and he offers informed judgment on the genericity, specificity, and/or protectability of contested material. He also assesses the similarity of names/marks to offer informed judgments in infringement litigation.
Case example: Dr. Perlman demonstrated that another marketer’s brand name was, on several linguistic levels, similar to that of the attorney’s client.
(4) Authorship: Dr. Perlman conducts analysis of a language sample-the grammar, lexicon, and other features – to offer an expert opinion on the likelihood of particular suspected writers, single-author/forged texts, and other legal/linguistic hypotheses. Here’s where his vast experience in text analysis is relevant. Everybody has a writing style — some more obvious than others — and he can usually make an authorship call with some (or a lot of) certainty based on feature occurrence and pattern similarities. If the writer is a foreign language speaker, his/her style will be even more obvious.
Case example: anonymous letters of complaint to a company’s Board; forged letters (by a single author) in employment dispute.
Case example: An ex-husband’s new wife was writing emails over his signature. Dr. Perlman was asked to identify the elements of her style and help resolve the disputed authorship.
Other examples from the above four case categories:
Expert opinion on status of compound words (trademark infringement litigation).
Expert opinion on plagiarism of song lyrics (copyright litigation involving musical group The Who).
Authorship analysis of e-mails in Florida internal union dispute.
Preliminary analysis of authorship issues in malpractice litigation.
Expert opinion on authorship issues in business partnership dispute involving anonymous writings.
Authorship analysis of anonymous letters of complaint to a corporation’s Board of Directors.
Expert opinion on the semantics of trademark infringement in litigation by an apparel firm.
Authorship analysis of anonymous letters (possibly written by disgruntled employees) for major Midwestern corporation.
Authorship analysis of emails to website of a “cult deprogrammer.”
Expert opinion on linguistic similarities between plaintiff’s and defendant’s trademarks.
Authorship analysis of defamatory emails written to an individual in a corporation.
Authorship advice on a possibly forged stock transfer document.
Authorship analysis of letters involved in the Son of Sam case.
Analysis to support allegations of plagiarism of online course material.
Interpretation of contract language regarding the disposition of acquired corporate entities.
Defense against charges of academic and student plagiarism (several cases).
Analysis of chat transcripts to determine whether defendant engaged in enticement or seduction.
Authorship analysis of emails in divorce and custody disputes (several cases).
Expert opinion on whether The DaVinci Code was plagiarized from the client’s writing (it was not).
- Forensic linguistics featured in New Yorker piece - To introduce the next post, here’s my response to a New Yorker piece on forensic linguistics. The article is in the print version and at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/07/23/120723fa_fact_hitt . Dear Editor, As a practicing forensic linguist, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on the profession – but with mixed feelings. It was gratifying to see forensic linguistics, which is not... Read more »
- The forensic linguist and the Artful Dodger: Can people deliberately fake their writing style? - Perhaps 25% of the cases I handle involve the authorship of anonymous, disputed, or forged documents. The client wants to know who’s writing those nasty, threatening emails or letters. I typically ask the client for writing samples from the suspected author. Sometimes there’s more than one suspect, and I have to decide which of them... Read more »
- “Google” goes generic - Some years ago, right around this time of year, a geek site, as an April Fools prank, launched a new product — unicorn meat – which it called “the new white meat,” and lawyers for the National Pork Board issue a cease-and-desist order, because they’ve gone to great lengths to copyright “the other white meat”... Read more »
- Stylistic analysis/stylometrics – a concise statement - The following description is taken from an affidavit by Gerald R. McMenamin, one of the leading scholars in the field; the affidavit – from Case 1:10-cv-00569-RJA -LGF Document 50 Filed 06/02/11 As part of his expert witness statement, McMenamin describes the theoretical and practical foundation of the method by which he examined documents and determined... Read more »
- When a lawyer needs a linguist - When does a lawyer need a linguist? As Roger Shuy, one of the most pre-eminent forensic linguists, has observed, the interpretation and application of the law are overwhelmingly about language. Thus, there are many situations in which the expertise of a linguist – someone trained in the precise description and analysis of language (but not... Read more »
- Basis forensic skills: How text-sensitive are you? - A forensic linguist must be exquisitely sensitive to nuances of text. Where a synonym exists, the very choice of each word represents a decision on the part of the author. Superimposed upon that is the way toward is spelled, abbreviated or capitalized. Truly, a text is a tangle of choices. The following are intended to... Read more »
- I was wrong: p.c. can go even lower - Just when I thought the absurdity of political correctness/perceived insult exemplified by the contrived controversy over the “lighter is better” beer commercial could not be topped, along comes p.c.’s most ludicrous artifact yet: new pronouns. A couple of days ago, I watched in shock and awe as Tucker Carlson interviewed a woman who explained them:... Read more »
- Trump, Trump, Trump: desperately seeking synonyms - Charles Dickens is famous for giving his characters whimsical names that often reflect their personalities. “Scrooge” is probably the best-known, unmistakably conveying a grasping miserliness in almost tangible terms. If Dickens had written about a vulgar, aggressive billionaire intent on seeking power, crushing his enemies, and emblazoning his name around the world, he could hardly... Read more »
- “Lighter is better”: Political correctness hits a new low - I have been bitching about political correctness for decades (e.g., “Why we love to hate p.c.,” Toastmaster magazine, June 1996; copies available on request) to no avail, and it keeps getting worse. The list of offensive words has grown and grown. New terms have appeared – “trigger words,” “hate speech,” “micro-aggressions” — as grievance groups... Read more »
- For a quick — but accurate — summary of political rhetoric, read this - This is as good a summary of political rhetoric as I’ve seen: “Political speeches are rarely occasions for truth-telling. But the good ones combine a description of shared reality with the expression of a vision, or with words of celebration. The mediocre ones consist of platitudes—well-intentioned but lacking the force of inspiration or recognition. And... Read more »