What is forensic linguistics?

The purposes of language go far beyond communication; it can be used to affect or change how people think and behave.

Forensic linguistics is concerned with every aspect of language and the law.

…linguistics is virtually invisible to most people…Just as physicians are trained to see things in an X-ray that the average person with excellent vision cannot see, so linguists are trained to see and hear structures that are invisible to the lay person.

Roger Shuy, xvii, Language Crimes

A forensic linguist is sometimes a general practitioner and sometimes a specialist  in any of a number of sub-areas within the science. If you are a Shakespeare scholar, questions of authorship might interest you.  If your interest is in phonetics, then voice identification might appeal. A conversational analyst might be interested in the detection of emergency hoax calls…

On “systemic racism”

The purposes of language go far beyond communication; it can be used to affect or change how people think and behave.

When language comes from certain groups – notably politicians, clergy, or marketers – we should be aware of how often it does not refer to anything in the real world and be sensitive to attempts to tell us what’s true or otherwise manipulate us.

 The truth is what most people believe. And they believe that which is repeated most often

Josef Goebbels

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell

“You have the right to remain silent”: Obstacles to understanding the Miranda warning, Part II — Workaround

How often are individuals deprived of their rights because they didn’t really understand the Miranda warning?

 

In an earlier post, I offered some reasons why the Miranda warning, an 89-word text recited in less than a minute, is so often misunderstood, with the result that defendants give up rights they didn’t know they had.

A summary of the obstacles (many of which occur simultaneously):

  • Contains several complexities in vocabulary, grammatical structure
  • Calls upon analytic/synthetic, appropriate-response (as opposed to interactive) skills.
  • Confuses sequence of events – remain silent, have a lawyer present

Musk affirms painful truth about President Puppet

Whose words, ideas, and, most importantly, policy decisions are we hearing when the President speaks? They almost certainly aren’t his.

 What orators lack in depth, they make up to you in length

Montesquieu, 1767

Here comes the orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason.

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735

Now that Elon Musk has dared to say what everyone, including  Dr. Jill (who really wanted to be First Lady and talks about when “we” won)  already knows…and to suggest that the President is bereft of ideas or original thought…the “empty suit” accusation now has a much louder amplifier, and I thank Elon for having the courage to utter the unutterable.  Read more at https://www.language-expert.net/now-president-zero-the-final-devolution-of-presidential-rhetoric/

The (barely-) hidden agenda of racial equity glossaries

A dictionary reports equivalencies. A "racial equity glossary" dictates them.

A dictionary reports equivalencies. A “racial equity glossary” dictates them.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

From Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” (1871)

Recently,  OpportunityNow, a San Jose-based website/resource for entrepreneurs, invited me to comment on the City of San Jose’s Racial Equity Glossary.

Here’s what I sent them:

Language control through perceived offense: how far can p.c. go?

As with any religion, the p.c. folks make it up as they go along. Self-appointed experts decide that yet another word - in this case, a word in a different language, may cause offense, and the cancer of political correctness advances, one word at a time.

As with any religion, the p.c. folks make it up as they go along. Self-appointed experts decide that yet another word – in this case, a word in a different language! – is a “trigger.” The cancer of political correctness advances, one word at a time.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

— George Orwell

In these times of language abuse and language control – when a Supreme Court nominee cannot define “woman” (because she is so politically compromised) – I must once again note that manufactured offense knows no limits.  There is no end to it, even though it crosses the bounds of commonsense and reason.

What’s a “woman”? Supreme Court nominee creates watershed moment in left language lunacy

An accurate and timely message: Many of the government abuses that George Orwell so accurately described turn out to have been accurate predictions as well.

An accurate and timely message: Many of the political language abuses that George Orwell so accurately described turn out to have been accurate predictions as well.

Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell

The real pronoun problem: political “we”

Political speech is full of lies, euphemisms, deceptions, and nonsense, with words large and small. One of the most deceptive small words is political “we.”

 

Pronouns, considering that they comprise only a short list of words, are one of the most fascinating aspects of English grammar.  All of them have multiple meanings, and there’s a lot of room for fuzzy interpretation and language deception.

Let’s focus on “we.”

It can mean ‘you (singular or plural) and I,’ but nobody else.  Or ‘you and I and (un)named) others.’  Or ’I and one or more others, but not you.’

How the virus of political correctness spreads: none dare call it “looting”

As with any religion, the p.c. folks make it up as they go along. A self-appointed expert decides that yet another word - in this case "looting" - may cause offense, and the cancer of political correctness advances, one word at a time.

As with any religion, the p.c. folks make it up as they go along. A self-appointed expert decides that yet another word – in this case “looting” – may cause offense, and the cancer of political correctness advances, one word at a time.

 

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

From etiquette to coercion: language police threaten harsh punishments

 

An accurate and timely message: Many of the government abuses that George Orwell so accurately described turn out to have been accurate predictions as well.

An accurate and timely message: Many of the government abuses that George Orwell so accurately described turn out to have been accurate predictions as well.

 

Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell

“The Biden Administration…”– evading responsibility through impersonal speech

"Pyramid of obedience": a better metaphor than "chain of command"

Bad decisions flow downward and outward in the organizational pyramid, spreading bad ideas through obedience and the suppression of cognitive dissonance.

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

― George Orwell

Governments and organizations of every kind evade personal responsibility by making the organization the subject of an active sentence, as if it moved of its own will.  Granted, it’s sometimes a useful shorthand: Procter and Gamble has introduced…, in which case the company as a whole pulled it off, presumably in adherence to an agreed-upon business strategy; we don’t really have to know just whose idea the product was.

On the futility of International Pronoun Day

The goals of International Pronoun Day and the means by which they are to be achieved are vague, but it sure is fun to invent new pronouns!
Unfortunately, this is not feasible, given the role pronouns play in sentences.

Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities.

From the home page of International Pronoun Day

Not “chain of command” – but “pyramid of obedience”

"Pyramid of obedience": a better metaphor than "chain of command"

Bad decisions flow downward and outward in the organizational pyramid, spreading bad ideas through obedience and the suppression of cognitive dissonance.

 

“A wise man changes his mind, but a fool never.”

Arabic proverb

“Unadvised hasty judgment is a token apparent of a very slender wit.”

Anne Askew, 1520-46

America’s chaotic and humiliating exit from Afghanistan did not just happen.  Human decisions instigated and implemented it.  But the key question, if we are ever to hold anyone responsible for this disaster, if anyone is to be tried and convicted of crimes against humanity (in America? forget it: Dubya, Rumsfeld and Cheney should be in jail for life), we have to find out who.

“War” or “defense”? Propaganda and the value of repetition

“Defense Department” or “War Department”? Repetition breeds acceptance. But what part of America are these soldiers “defending”?

 

“The truth is what most people believe.  And they believe that which is repeated most often.”

Paul Josef Goebbels

The quote is from the man who served as Hitler’s Propaganda Minister and who (BTW, he was a linguist like me, with a doctorate in philology) would today feel quite at home in a PR or ad firm, or at the CIA or a related secret agency, or at one of the big tech companies.

Government creates a new “domestic terrorist threat.”  And where are the linguists?

Some of the many aspects of linguistics

Somewhere in this word cloud is “comment on language abuses in public discourse” and “resist political attempts at language and thought control.”
Nothing happens without language, and in the current social turmoil, one side is blatantly attempting control through language.
Linguists remain silent..

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

  • – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

“The goals migrated:” impersonal language and malicious obfuscation in political speech  

It's all too rare that political speech comes off as anything but "blah." It doesn't have to be that way.

Political speech relies on verbal manipulation, one prominent example: impersonal language that  avoids assigning (or taking) responsibility.

“Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, a retired rear admiral, recently said that during the long U.S. undertaking in Afghanistan ‘the goals did migrate over time.’  Did the goals themselves have agency – minds of their own?”

George Will

When I listen to or read the speech of the people who represent the government and the military-industrial complex, I hear impersonal language and, typically, malicious obfuscation.   By that I mean that they speak, as bureaucrats and politicians always have, in terms that, because people on the receiving end rarely subject them to critical scrutiny, are accepted at face value, though a moment’s consideration reveals how devious and deceptive they are.

Calling for an end to pronomania

A profusion of pronouns

A profusion of pronouns

 Pronomania [pro-no-MAY-nee-ah], n. an obsession with multiplying third-person personal pronouns to indicate a large number of genders, subjectively defined, resulting in the proliferation of personal pronouns, the announcement of “my” pronouns, and the user’s enhanced self-image and feeling of virtuous sensitivity to gender.

Some people think they know about pronouns.  They know nothing.  They think they can multiply English personal pronouns at will.  They announce their “own” pronouns and feel virtuous.  They don’t know that pronouns are one of a few classes of words that are so fundamental that the inventory is limited and rarely, if ever changed.

“Critical Race Theory,” Part II: Where are the linguists?

Some of the many aspects of linguistics

Linguistics consists of many sub-disciplines, all devoted to the study of language.

“Linguistics is virtually invisible to most people…”

— Roger Shuy, Language Crimes, 1996

“Critical Race Theory” is not going away.  Although the slogan is heard almost everywhere in academia and education, almost no one inquires into what it actually means in practice.

It means a lot of different things, which is a good thing for its adherents and practitioners because, they can do anything they want in the name of this impressive- sounding undertaking.

“Critical Race Theory”: A triumph of marketing and branding

It is politically incorrect to question the real meaning of "Critical Race Theory." And that's the way its proponents like ie.

It takes courage and clear thinking to question the all-pervasive indoctrination of Critical Race Theory. But what does the phrase actually mean?

As there is now an inexorable push to make Critical Race Theory a required part of America’s educational system, pushback is  required.  Kudos to Andrew Gutman,  the Brearly (NY) School father who stood up, in no uncertain terms, to the relentless indoctrination to which his kid had been subjected (for $50,000+/year).

Twice poisoned

As Candace Owens notes, CRT is a double poison, taking time from teaching academic skills and at the same time producing a generation of non-thinking, malleable sheep.

On “semantic games” and “infrastructure”

What is a language?

A language is a vast, amorphous consensus among its users as to how words are equivalent to each other and associated with our subjective and objective worlds.

 When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

There is nothing “mere” about semantics!