( 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).
- Reply to student: suggested authorship project - This rarest of all things — a legitimate letter from Nigeria (at least, I think — it didn’t ask for money) landed in my in-box: Hello Dr. Alan. I am N__________from Nigeria. I am a student of Stylistics at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. My professor requested for a term paper on ‘Forensic Stylistics’ and... Read more »
- PS: Language judgments and prejudices - A PS to the previous post: We judge people by the way they speak, by which I mean we apply to them the generalizations we have gleaned from past associations with people who speak that way. I caution against being too hasty with these snap judgments. There are very good reasons why a non-stupid person... Read more »
- No, I’m not peeved by people who can’t keep “their,” “they’re” and “there” straight - My sweet wife is peeved. She wrote a Facebook post and started a thread. Apparently others are peeved too. As a linguist, I don’t get peeved. Well, sometimes I do. But I try to observe and learn. [ I think there are some linguistic developments we can do without, but people have always thought that. ... Read more »
- Linguist looks at 2nd Amendment - One thing I understand about New Hampshire, after eight years here, is that the state’s bold and famous motto, “live free or die,” refers mainly to the second half of the 2nd Amendment. A few years ago, its (not my) Legislature was considering laws that will make concealed-carry easier and (this one really make me... Read more »
- Questions about the war on clickbait - “People tell us they don’t like stories that are misleading, sensational, or spammy. That includes clickbait headlines that are designed to get attention and lure visitors into clicking on a link.” Facebook blog So Facebook has declared war on clickbait. The post defines three categories. “Spammy” I can understand. But we already have protection built... Read more »
- What plagiarism is – and is not - I confidently predict that sometime in the next year, a public figure (or even someone you know) will be accused of plagiarism. When that happens, read this first: What plagiarism is — and is not A brief definition: plagiarism is knowingly appropriating another’s original words and/or ideas and presenting them as one’s own. As... Read more »
- “Arrival” movie — an earnest but muddled attempt to render alien communication - Finally! A movie that makes an honest attempt to portray the way alien life-forms communicate — and actually stars a LINGUISTICS PROFESSOR who is tasked with figuring it out. I was fascinated to see what they came up with. Previous efforts had the aliens either making unintelligible noises (as in “The Arrival,” a highly... Read more »
- Push-words, Part II: The power of Push - Part II — The Power of Push From long years of observation, I’ve concluded that most people are not aware of the persuasive power of push-words – or of how blithely and frequently we call upon them. Most people believe that that their (portrayals of the) facts are THE facts. But serious observers of the language... Read more »
- The most persuasive words in the language - How much would you pay for the most persuasive words in the language? And what do you think they would be? Are there really words that can get people to do anything you want? Reality check: there are no magic words, and we cannot always get people to do what we want with words alone... Read more »
- Alan Perlman reviews Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech” - I just finished “The Kingdom of Speech,” by Tom Wolfe (2016, Little, Brown), author of “The Right Stuff” (about the first astronauts), “Bonfire of the Vanities” (a shot at NY’s elites), “A Man in Full,” (about the vulgar wealth of the New South), and many others I enjoyed immensely. Apart from his stylistic peculiarities, Wolfe... Read more »