Unique experience and skill set
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.
Tools and techniques of linguistics applied to legal issues
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.
The “Lay Witness”
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 dense, arcane 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.
And OF COURSE there is an established theoretical foundation (Labov’s theory of language variation) and an established procedure, forensic stylistics, repeated and validated for centuries and used in legal proceedings in the US and UK.
“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 — and a wealth of real-world experience
“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.
Chaski’s insistence, in her “Best Practices” article, that forensic linguistic analysis be “litigation-independent” is, well…nuts. What part of “forensic” does she fail to understand? If there were no litigation (actual or pending), then I would have no business. Does she doubt my ability to be impartial?
And then Chaski goes and does something profoundly stupid: she gets her data from assigned writing! She asks students to make up communications in highly stressful situations. If they were really in these situations, the data would be completely different.
How can this possibly be “ground-level” data? Did she never learn, as I learned directly from Labov, that the presence of the observer compromises the data, much more so if the writing “sample” is assigned?
“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.
Chomsky offered nothing really new!
“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.
Chomsky initially got a lot of mileage out of a new way to diagram sentences to show paraphrase relationships with an imaginary “deep structure.” A new way to express an old idea. BTW, conventional grammar did allow for recursion and embedding — even old-fashioned sentence diagramming could do those things.
But Chomsky took all the credit for making linguistics “scientific” (“a grammar of a language L is a theory of L” — what does that even mean?), 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.)”
- Code-switching and pandering – a new low - Spare me the sight / of this thankless breed, these politicians / who cringe for favors from a screaming mob / and do not care what harm they do their friends / providing they can please a crowd! Euripides, Hecuba (c. 425 BCE) This post introduces my Blahblahblah Award, bestowed upon the politician using the... Read more »
- On baby talk and language change - Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care. William Safire I admire John McWhorter so much for the breadth of his accomplishments, his accessibility to the media, his eloquent lectures. I recently saw a video clip in which he pegged Trump’s speech as characteristic of... Read more »
- Words, maps, territories, and the political abuse of language - The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often. Paul Josef Goebbels Here is the text of a letter I sent to the Manchester NH Union-Leader (published 6/21/19): March 19, 2019 Dear Editor, Let me add my voice to the chorus of people outraged by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s... Read more »
- The Babel problem and the dangers of multilingualism - And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” The Lord came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and the Lord said, “If, as... Read more »
- Who’s got the sexiest accent? Not me. - I just read an article on “who’s got the sexiest accent?’, and when I Googled the article, I discovered that “sexiest accent” generates over four million hits. As Trump said about health care, who knew there were so many surveys? The ones I skimmed through seemed mostly intended as tourism boosters, at least for the... Read more »
- The difference between code-switching and pandering (pay attention, Hillary) - “…style is intrinsic and private, like…voice or gesture, partly a matter of inheritance, partly of cultivation. It is more than a pattern of expression. It is the pattern of the soul.” -Maurice Valency Think of language as haberdashery: you have a closet full of clothes for every occasion. Your clothing choice expresses yourself in a... Read more »
- Biden’s plagiarism alone disqualifies him - Don’t forget why God made your eyes — plagiarize! Tom Lehrer, “Lobachevsky” I’m involved in a fair number of plagiarism cases. In non-fiction allegations, I typically represent a student who has omitted quotations marks, possibly because he/she was lifting what appeared to be basic background information. There are very few ways of saying... Read more »
- Political language 2019: simpler but no less devious - Definitions of “politician”: An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. Ambrose Bierce (One who) divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies. That means he knows only one class: enemies. Friedrich Nietzsche [Someone] who identifies the sound of his own voice with the infallible voice of the... Read more »
- “You have the right to remain silent…”: On understanding the Miranda warning (it’s not so easy) - 1. You have the right to remain silent. 2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. 3. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. 4. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one... Read more »
- 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 »