Book notice: Linguistics in the Courtroom

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 30 14:42:24 UTC 2007

Linguistics in the Courtroom

AUTHOR: Shuy, Roger W.
TITLE: Linguistics in the Courtroom
SUBTITLE: A practical guide
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2006

reviewed by Claire Gurski, Department of French, University of Western


_Linguistics in the Courtroom_ is, as stated in the title, a 'practical
guide' for linguists interested in applying their knowledge to the legal
field. It is aimed at both beginning and seasoned linguists who are
interested in the area of forensic linguistics. This step-by-step guide
deals with a range of issues such as establishing and operating a
practice, networking for clients as well as what to expect in a
deposition, giving testimony and how to deal with cross-examination. Each
section is interwoven with examples from Shuy's own experiences and is,
therefore, based mainly on the American system and practices; however, he
frequently points out some of the slightly different practices between
those of the United States and those of the United Kingdom.

The book begins with Shuy defining what is currently called forensic
linguistics. He feels that this can be a misleading title and specifies
that a forensic linguist is first and foremost a linguist. He counsels
students who are interested in the field to first become a linguist then
gain expertise in a field of linguistics such as syntax, morphology or
phonetics. The next step is to learn how to work and testify as a
linguistic expert rather than focusing on the title of forensic
linguistics. He stresses that forensic linguistics is an application of
linguistics and that solid foundational knowledge is more essential than

Chapter two and three deal with setting up a practice and doing business
with lawyers. In these chapters, Shuy gives advice that is pertinent not
only to beginning linguists but also to those already in the field:
guidance such as not accepting calls from clients themselves but only from
their attorneys. He also specifies that everything should be in writing
and that you should review the material before agreeing to take a case as
you need to stay within your qualifications.

The following chapter addresses working with attorneys and the constraints
that are linked with the legal system. The main issue that Shuy attends to
is that of communication and the best ways to go about it, be it
face-to-face interactions, email or telephone/fax. He recommends that it
is important to meet in person even though this may be a difficult
scheduling task. Shuy also deals with the subject of discovery -- the
requirement that all documents and other materials be turned over to the
other side. This includes all notes taken during conversations, drafts and
final versions of any reports. Therefore it is important to take few
notes. The main problem for a linguist expert is if the analysis changes
throughout the process.  These notes are still available and may be open
for discovery which could then be used to discredit your testimony.
Finally, he advises that if opposing lawyers contact the expert, it is
important to know how the attorney you are working for wants you to deal
with such situations. It is important to always remember that anything
said to the opposition can be used against you, thereby compromising the

The next few chapters give advice on how to write reports for legal
purposes. He covers what to expect when being deposed, during the direct
examination and the cross examination. Shuy counsels that the time
normally required for a linguist to write reports or articles is not
realistic in legal cases. Time constraints are controlled by the courts
and even though repeated postponements are not infrequent, it is necessary
to be prepared for the initial date given.

Finally, chapters eleven and twelve deal with passing on your experience
as an expert witness by teaching classes or writing professional articles.
It is advisable to confirm with the attorney but generally, in the USA,
after a trial is over, it becomes part of the public domain and therefore
there is no restriction on using data for educational or professional
publication purposes. Shuy reminds the reader that anything that is
published is available for the opposing attorneys to try to use against
the expert even though it is seldom fruitful for them to do so.

Throughout the book, as well as in chapter ten entitled Ethical Issues,
Shuy inserts comments about ethical issues which may arise. First and
foremost, you need to be qualified for the issues of the specific case.
The author states that 'it's better to know your limits and stay within
them.' Your analysis should be the same regardless of which side you are
working for. You also need to be willing to say something is hopeless,
i.e. the data can not be analyzed or that it is in fact incriminating.
Even though your analysis should be the same whether you represent the
prosecution or the defense, working for both sides is not permitted. As an
expert you are hired simply to analyze the evidence and present your


_Linguistics in the Courtroom_ is the only book of its kind. It is a
useful resource for both the seasoned linguist and the student interested
in the relatively young area of linguistic application where linguistics
intersects with the law. It is a concise, short read at 145 pages and the
advice of a practiced expert is indispensable. The bibliography of notable
books in this field is comprehensive and valuable.

Shuy addresses often delicate issues such as remuneration for hourly work
as well as time for traveling and testifying. He deals with money issues
which are not addressed elsewhere. Given the legal nature of the work fees
are sometimes seen as the buying of a testimony. Shuy reminds the reader
that no other expert would be expected to work without compensation.
Charging for your analysis could only be seen as allowing your testimony
to be bought if you adapted your analysis to benefit the side for whom you
were working.

The only criticism would be that although Shuy incorporates both the
American and British systems, there is no information about the Canadian
system. This is understandable given that at the point the book was
written (2006), this field is almost non-existent in Canada; however, it
is of growing interest. Taking into account Canada's combination of US and
UK legal practices and the compactness of Shuy's manual, perhaps this is
not the place for the addition of the Canadian system. This would,
however, be a useful topic for a Canadian linguist to address.

This is an easy read for the beginner but is also valuable to the expert
in light of the thirty-five years of experience of the author in the
field.  This is an important reference in the fast growing area of
application called 'forensic linguistics'.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Claire Gurski is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of
Western Ontario. Her current research focuses on voice identification of
bilingual speakers. More specifically, she is looking at the
identification of a speaker when comparison materials are in two
languages. She is also interested in applying the Daubert requirements for
expert testimony to the area of phonetic analysis.


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