Saturday, November 7, 2009

John Olsson's WORD CRIME

If you are interested at all in Forensic Linguistics (or if you want to find out what it is), you should check out the Forensic Linguistics Institute website.  John Olsson is the founder of the institute and author of the three leading books on forensic linguistics (both are on the website).  I am focusing this blog on his latest book on forensic linguistics, Word Crime: Solving Crime Through Forensic Linguistics.

The inside book flap provides the following information about the book:

"Tell kids not to worry. sorting my life out. be in touch to get some things"
Instead of being a text message from one partner to another, this text message turns out to be crucial and chilling evidence in convicting the deceptive killer of a mother of two.  Sent from her phone, after her death, a few tell tale signs give him away to a forensic linguist... Rarely is a crime committed without there being some evidence in the form of language.

John Olsson is a world-leading expert in forensic linguistics, a science where linguistic techniques are applied to legal processes to solve cases and provide new angles on evidence.  Beginning with a description of exactly what forensic linguistics is, Olsson includes a survey of some of the high profile criminal and civil cases he has worked on where it has been used.  Including the much-discussed dispute between the publishers of The Da Vinci Code and the author of Daughter of God, there are a series of chapters where gripping cases are described--involving murder, sexual assault, hate mail, plagiarism, suspicious death, code deciphering, arson and even genocide.

This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in true crime, in modern, cutting-edge criminology and also about where the study of language meets the law.

Since 1996, John Olsson has operated a world-renowned forensic linguistics consultancy and training service at  He is an Adjunct Professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, USA, where he teaches forensic linguistics online.  He is also Visiting Professor of Forensic Linguistics at the International University of Novi Pazar in Serbia where he runs an annual summer school in Forensic Linguistics, and is a board member of the Language and Law Centre at the University of Zagreb, Croatia where he is also a Visiting Professor.

I am recommending this book instead of his others (which are texts focusing on how to do forensic analysis of language) because this one is split into cases so that one chapter equals one case.  It is a book you can pick and choose from--you don't have to read the chapters in order to understand the whole.  His other books are also interesting and great sources but are not as easily combed through--they work best being read beginning to end while practicing the skills he writes about in each chapter.  They focus on completing analysis instead of on cases.  Reading about the cases will allow you to see the many different applications of forensic linguistics, some of which may surprise you.

I think I need to propose a new TV show: CSI: Linguistics Division.  Any supporters?

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