Alan M. Perlman, an academically trained career linguist, is a forensic expert who offers clients exceptional quality, experience, and expertise. He is one of a small number of linguistics experts who assist the legal professions — and perhaps the only one who also has a lifetime of practical experience in the real-world use of language..
He has a PhD in linguistics and more than 35 years of experience as an expert in those areas of forensic linguistics to which his varied experiences are best suited (see Areas of Specialization)
His expertise represents a unique combination: a deep theoretical understanding of the workings of language, along with extensive and intensive experience, shared by few if any other linguists, of decades of examining, analyzing, transcribing, editing, composing, and teaching others to compose thousands of real-life, real-time texts and documents of all kinds.
Dr. Perlman is thus highly qualified to assist attorneys, other legal professionals, law enforcement personnel, and private clients in understanding the linguistic issues that bear upon particular cases.
Like other forensic linguists, Dr. Perlman applies the principles and methods of linguistics to the language of legal proceedings, disputes, and documents.
Regardless of which side hired him, Dr. Perlman will never compromise his integrity. He delivers sound, honest judgments.
Dr. Perlman provides counsel and produces reports, affidavits, depositions, and testimony. He is a court-qualified “lay witness” as described in the legal definition — an individual whose breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in the matter at hand can be of assistance to the trier of fact. This is in contrast to the “expert witness,” who has published in peer-reviewed journals and employs empirically repeatable methods.
Dr. Perlman is a court-certified lay witness, per the Federal Rules of Evidence, ARTICLE VII. OPINIONS AND EXPERT TESTIMONY › Rule 701. Opinion Testimony by Lay Witnesses:
Rule 701 says that the lay expert’s opinions are admissible if they are “rationally based on the witness’s perception, helpful to…determining a fact in issue; and not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702,” which sets out the criteria for expert witnesses.
Here are Dr. Perlman’s comments on the issue:
“Well, first of all, ‘lay’ is a little lame. It calls to mind the difference between clergy and laity, as if the former were in possession of a truth unavailable to the latter. They are not.
“There is more than one path to truth about language. The very fact that the client has retained me says that he/she believes in my expertise. And I wouldn’t take the case unless I believed the same. So all we have to do is convince the court.
“The Federal Rules of Evidence say that the lay witness may call upon technical expertise that is not within the purview of the expert witness — so really, I’m an expert too, and we should do away with the second-class-sounding ‘lay witness.’ But there’s no undoing precedent, and ‘lay witness’ gets me qualified to take the stand and share my expertise.
“Anyway, the rule works in my favor: I can infer from the third provision that the very fact that my expertise does not overlap with theirs is a strong argument for qualifying me, along with the other two.
“Expert” (?) witnesses
“Insisting that an expert’s research method be ‘repeatable’ is setting the bar too high. Unfortunately. as I just read in Tucker Carlson’s book Ship of Fools, the results of as many as half of all scientific studies were not repeatable.
“Also, the expert witness’s computers can process huge quantities of language, but all they can do is count and segment. Check out John Searle’s famous Chinese Room thought experiment. Computers will never be able to view language in the same way as humans, because they do not have consciousness. And that is not likely to change.
Over-relying on machine data
“I caution against over-reliance on machine data. A blatant example: I have defended numerous plagiarism cases in which the demonic search engine turnitin flagged material that wasn’t plagiarized, including bibliographies. These cannot be copyrighted; they’re in the public domain! Yet findings like these led to severe academic discipline. Inexcusable. In a recent case, the student’s conclusions and discussion were not flagged — because, of course, they were original.
The centrality of language
“I got into linguistics because it seemed the central humanistic discipline, anchoring psychology, physics, fiction, economics, and everything else.
“I figured that whatever happens in human affairs, it happens because of language. So if I could understand how language works, I could understand how these other disciplines organized their knowledge. And — unexpected benefit — I could tell when the language became detached from reality and turned into BS, a form of half-lying to which language-unsophisticated people are susceptible (worst offenders: clergy, politicians, and marketers): .
“Another advantage: my explanations are phrased in everyday language and are clear to judges, attorneys, and juries. I’m not saying Carol Chaski and colleagues can’t communicate their statistical findings (even three eminent linguists couldn’t understand her method) to a jury, but they’ve got quite a hill to climb.
“I will NOT tolerate accusations, from people who should know better, that if there’s no computer or statistics, then it’s not linguistics or science, that there is no place for the linguist’s judgment.
“OF COURSE what I do is scientific: I observe data, which, in authorship cases, is usually hiding from the layman in plain sight (now there’s a more appropriate use of lay). I attempt to interpret the data in terms of its frequency and patterns.
“For example, there are many individual patterns in the use of hyphens with prefixes and compound words. If there’s enough data, hyphenation patterns are, as far as I can tell, largely idiosyncratic, thus a reliable style-marker. Qualitatively, I assess whether a particular feature is rare enough to be part of the individual’s idiolect. Some writers have a habit of addressing their recipient in the middle of a text: Debbie, I just didn’t know…. Most people do not, so when I find two texts that contain this feature, I’m inclined to put that particular data point in the ‘did write’ column.
“In authorship identification, the qualitative method may not be statistical, but it is probabilistic. when similarities of pattern and feature accumulate, at a certain point, I’m ready to declare a degree of certainty. That’s all a lot of people want — ‘evidence did write.’
Linguist as umpire
“I arrive at such decisions the way human beings do countless times every minute: through informed judgment. Sports officials learn to make the instant call. They don’t have to watch 500 videos of the same pitch before they call a ball or a strike. In fact, people of every kind, from cabdrivers to brain surgeons, make decisions based on experience and judgment. Why not linguists?
“The same kind of expertise pervades all of my areas of specialization. I apply the analytic concepts and tools of linguistics to the resolution of language-based legal questions — author identification, interpretation of documents (here’s where I call on my studies of grammar and semantics); plagiarism (in which I assess the originality of the source material, among other factors); and trademark infringement (often a lexicographical exercise to see the extent to which the disputed term is already part of the language, thus not protectable).
Lay witness and expert witness
“I consider myself the equal of the expert witness in every way. It’s been said that the best measure of an expert witness is his ability to explain what he does. That is one of my strengths.
“I am fascinated by language, consider myself a practitioner of science, and bring a wealth of experience that the peer-reviewed folks have not had. Which of them has been in the high-pressure situation of getting a style analysis right the first time and every time and producing a speech text that sounds as if the speaker composed it? I did that successfully for 20+ years. For six years, I wrote speeches for the CEO of General Motors, among others. Failure at style analysis would have gotten me fired. Who says I don’t have a success rate?.
“Along with my forensic experience, I have been a ghostwriter, linguistics professor, scholar, researcher, English composition instructor, professional editor, professional writer, and lecturer. I offer unique personal experience in applied linguistics — linguistics in the real world — and I provide educated judgments and clear, readable reports to litigants and legal professionals.
PS: Academics and sharp knives
“Human judgment, combined with experienced analysis of the data, is not to be disparaged as ‘unscientific.’ Nor is it to be deemed irrelevant to the understanding of language, which is, after all, humanity’s crowning achievement. Chaski and her colleagues dismiss forensic stylistics, which they portray inaccurately, because that’s what academics do: they go after dissenters with sharp knives.
“I’ve seen this before. It’s early Chomsky all over again. As in the 60s, it’s another attempt by linguists to assure themselves that their field is ‘scientific.’ The Great One’s advocates were withering in their criticism of their predecessors — structural linguists, who were portrayed as idiots blind to the enlightenment of generative/transformational grammar.
“But in one of my publications, I showed that Chomsky’s ideas weren’t as new as claimed. They were well understood by a 19th-century grammarian, Samuel Greene, and probably, from Greene’s citations, by past grammarians as well. Greene alludes to a very old understanding of the connection between single thought and multiple forms. But Chomsky took all the credit, and by the time my article appeared, the Chomsky juggernaut was in high gear, and The Great One could do no wrong.”
“(Disclaimer: I too disavow ‘literary forensics,’ with its speculations on what the writer was thinking or where he/she had previously encountered a particular word or phrase.’ I stick to the data.)”
- Examples from the Forensic (Linguistic) Files- At various places on this site, you’ll find somewhat abstract descriptions of the services I offer. But what kinds of cases do I actually get involved in? Examples follow (current cases excluded; cases involving forensic stylistics are highlighted). In three of my specialties, I’m about equally divided between Plaintiff and Defendant. In cases... Read more »
- Language and the “Catfish” Scam (“It’s the Grammar, Stupid!”)- The tongue of man is a twisty thing There are plenty of words there Of every kind The range of words is wide And their variance — Homer, Iliad If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. — Confucius. I’ve spent a lifetime learning about... Read more »
- RIP Philip Roth, prophet of political correctness- One of my favorite authors, Philip Roth, died recently, leaving a magnificent body of work. Unlike other personal faves, Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, who composed mostly in the key of J (for “Jewish”; Malamud’s The Natural is an exception), Roth’s versatility was truly impressive. In Indignation (2008), a young man bucks the system of... Read more »
- Calling (out) my fellow linguists- Our society is divided by many conflicting forces, but two of them are in our face almost all the time, roiling America like the whirling blades of the old MixMaster – and causing just as much confusion. Both are related to the field in which I was trained – linguistics. Both center on language... Read more »
- What ABC could — and should — have said- Draft ABC press release — full-page ads in all print media; also release to all online news outlets (alternate universe): New York, NY – June 1, 2018. To all our advertisers, our staff, our viewers, and all the citizens of our great and FREE country…. We at ABC have experienced a firestorm of criticism for... Read more »
- 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 »