2017 Guest Speakers

James R. Fitzgerald

Topic: Practical Uses of Forensic Linguistics

Bio: James R. Fitzgerald remains an active criminal profiler and forensic linguist after retiring with 20 years in the FBI. During his career, he successfully investigated numerous homicides, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes, as well as matters of international notoriety to include the Unabom, Anthrax, Jon Benet Ramsey, and DC Sniper cases as a profiler and/or a forensic linguist. James’ pivotal role in arresting the Unabomber will be highlighted in Discovery Channel’s series, Manhunt: The Unabomber, premiering August 2017.

Abstract: In this presentation, I will be discussing the role of forensic linguistics in the United States criminal justice system from the mid-1990s to today. Specifically, how one long-term FBI serial bombing investigation was resolved after 17 years by utilizing a methodology never previously undertaken in U.S. law enforcement matters: the analysis and comparison of numerous written communications for purposes of authorship identification and linkage. It was the Unabom investigation and that analysis assisted in the ultimate identification, arrest, and conviction of the elusive killer, Theodore J. Kaczynski.

Since the FBI’s Unabom case officially closed in 1997 with Kaczynski’s guilty plea, forensic linguistics has played a role in numerous high-profile investigations in the U.S. These include the Jon Benet Ramsey homicide, September 11, 2001 attacks, Anthrax investigation, Washington DC Sniper case, and other homicide cases where authorship comparison and identification provided the necessary evidence to either solve a case, or at a minimum, point to a specific suspect.

In the early 2000s, while an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, I created, designed, and implemented the Communicated Threat Assessment Database (CTAD). It was the first corpus of genre-specific communications of its kind, with each communication contained therein linked to threats, crimes, and/or potentially criminally oriented situations.  I will also discuss my expert testimony in forensic linguistics in various courts in the U.S., after first testifying in the landmark U.S. v Van Wyk case. In that case, the door was opened for expert testimony in language analysis in criminal prosecutions as it pertained to authorship identification.

Dr. Bente Jacobsen

Topic: “Court Interpreting and Pragmatics: A Quest for Accuracy”

AffiliationOslo and Akerhus University College of Applied Sciences, NORWAY

Bio: Bente Jacobsen is an associate professor and the author of numerous book chapters and articles on court interpreting. She received her PhD in court interpreting from the Aarhus School of Business in Aarhus, Denmark, in 2003. Her research centers on the pragmatics of interpreter-mediated courtroom questioning and the impact of court interpreters on the communication strategies of lawyers and defendants/witnesses. Other areas of research include the role of the interpreter in the courtroom and the ethical dilemmas of court interpreting.  Dr. Jacobsen has also been an interpreting teacher and a practicing court and conference interpreter since 1995.

Abstract: Interpreter ethics require language interpreters to interpret courtroom interaction accurately. The need for accuracy is particularly vital in the questioning of defendants and/or witnesses which constitute significant trial evidence. However, the principle of accuracy is neither easily defined nor easily achieved. As illustrated by various codes of ethics, it is ultimately up to the individual interpreters to use their best professional judgment in complying with the principle of accuracy.

To be able to do so, they must be not only fully competent professionals, skilled not only in the target languages and interpreting techniques, but also fully familiar with the details of the case as well as the communication strategies used by the questioner and the persons questioned.  Moreover, questions and answers are not always straightforward and may be fragmented or ambiguous. In addition, senders may intend their utterances to provoke, threaten, or cause similar reactions. Finally, both the questioner and the person questioned may attempt to manipulate or pressure the interpreter into making a mistake that will benefit a personal strategy. In my presentation, I will discuss the above topics and illustrate some of the barriers on the road to accuracy with my own authentic examples from Danish criminal trials.

Dr. Marit Olave Riis-Johansen

Topic: “Communicative Dilemmas in Police Interviews of Adult Witnesses: A Discourse Analytic Approach to Investigative Interviewing”

Affiliation: Department of Language and Literature, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NORWAY

Bio: Marit Olave Riis-Johansen holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the Norwegian University of Technology and Science (NTNU). Her PhD thesis “Balancing acts” involved a discourse analysis of investigative interviews of adult women reporting sexual abuse and violence. She is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at NTNU, with a project aiming at developing counselling interviews in the Norwegian labour and welfare organization. Her research interests center on analysis of institutional and professional communication, and on developing communication skills through collaboration between practitioners and discourse researchers.

Abstract:  This talk will present a discourse study of police interviews of adult witnesses in investigations concerning violence and sexual abuse. The data is taken from audio recordings and transcriptions of 11 police interviews, supplemented by observations of police interviewer trainings and examinations of institutional interview protocols. The construct of “communicative dilemma” will be central to this presentation.  This term refers to situations involving conflicting speaker considerations and demands.

The data analysis of this investigation points at different sorts of communicative dilemmas in the investigative interviews. Examples include such dilemmas as speakers striving to be both neutral and supportive; speakers trying to inform interviewees about their obligations while at the same time seeking to build a trusting relationship; and the overall dilemma of attempting to strike a balance between the institutional requirements of a police interview and the interviewers’ professional knowledge of what creates a good interview. Attentiveness to these dialogic cross-purposes in police interview is important to understand the complex role of the police interviewer. For illustrative purposes, interview transcripts will be presented, and the audience will be invited to analyze and discuss sample communicative dilemmas. The implications of this research for police education and training will also be presented.

Dr. Mette Hjortshøj Sørensen

Topic: “How Individual is the Individual Speaker: The Issues involved in Forensic Phonetic Comparisons of Single Speakers Against  Background Populations.”

AffiliationSchool of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University and Kriminalfonetik, DENMARK

Bio: Mette Hjortshøj Sørensen holds an MA in Linguistics and a PhD in forensic speech science from Aarhus University. She is currently an external lecturer at Aarhus University and the owner of a small company, called Kriminalfonetik where she performs forensic phonetic casework for the Danish Police and lawyers.  Her main research interests within Forensic Speech Science include sociophonetics, speaker variability, voice line-ups, and speech perception.

Abstract: For many forensic speech scientists, a major part of forensic case work involves speaker comparison. For obvious reasons it is therefore important for the forensic speech scientist to be able to assess the individual speaker’s distinctiveness. Many linguists learn from experience whether a certain trait is common or rare, but they often lack reference speakers to back this up. The underlying assumption within the field of forensic speech science is that speakers speak in – at least relatively – characteristic or distinctive ways. Hence, one of the challenges for most practitioners in the field is to define the relationship between the single speaker and the background population.

However, how individual is this specific individual speaker really compared to the “homogenous” group of reference speakers? It would be an advantage for all practitioners to not only gain knowledge about the distribution of certain specific features in speech, but also for them to gather knowledge about the combination of certain characteristics, i.e. whether correlations of certain features in speech exist. Indeed, these two goals are very important to ensure that practitioners do not overestimate the overall strength of evidence. Selecting an adequate and comparable reference population in itself can turn out to be a challenging task, however.  Further complications are introduced by the fact that those speakers belonging to the homogenous background population sometimes turn out to act like quite individual speakers.  This presentation will address all of these aspects for modern forensic speech casework.

Ms. Joanne Traynor

Topic: “Will Your Voice be Heard? Exploring Representations, Constructs, and Recontextualization During Emergency Calls to the Police”

AffiliationEssex Police Department, UNITED KINGDOM

Bio: Joanne Traynor is a communications supervisor, working for Essex Police in the UK, where she assesses threat, harm and risk during the control of dynamic emergency police incidents.  She is particularly interested in the movement of information between discourse domains present within the control room environment and the impact this has on the nature of risk and police response.  Her research interests include the following: the impact of constructs and re-contextualizations in police control rooms and the wider influence of these on policing; the language used to alter or amend the dynamic perception of risk in emergency environments; and gang member language and embedded gang to gang communication methods.  Joanne received the Cardiff University Language and Law residency scholarship in 2015.  She holds BSc (Hons) in Psychology.

Abstract: The Essex Police handles approximately 3,000 calls daily.  Of these, an estimated 1,000 are 999 emergency calls. Call handlers elicit from callers what has occurred, where it has occurred, what offences have or may have been committed and the level of threat, harm or risk present. This information is represented within the new discourse domain of the police incident and is passed to a dispatch operator for the allocation of police officers via the radio. Incidents are a construct created by the call handler of the events represented to them by the caller. Dispatch operators allocate officers via the radio with their understanding of events that are or have occurred.  The police officers’ knowledge of events unfolding is based upon this final representation.

This series of constructions and representations form recontextualizations (Rock, Heffer and Conley 2013) of events as information travels through a series of discourse domains.  Using the notion of recontextualization and textual travel (Rock, Heffer and Conley 2013), I present examples of emergency calls, the incidents created and radio speech that accompanies them.  Taking up ideas raised by Garner and Johnson (2013), I will show how representations, constructs, recontextualization and textual travel have a significant impact upon the callers reporting the incidents, the call handlers, radio dispatch operators and attending police officers.  I demonstrate what is represented as real is often not, that what is constructed can miss the real threat, and that the outcomes can have dire consequences.


Rock, F., Heffer, C and Conley, J. (2013) ‘Textual Travel in Legal-Lay Communication’ In: Heffer, C., Rock, F. and Conley, J. (Eds.)  Legal-Lay Communication: Textual Travels in the Law  Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press  3-32.

Garner, M. and Johnson, E.  (2013)  ‘The Transformation of Discourse in Emergency Calls to the Police’  In: Heffer, C., Rock, F. and Conley, J. (Eds.)  Legal-Lay Communication: Textual Travels in the Law  Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press  35-54.

Dr. Jens Vedsted-Hansen

Topic: “Current Challenges to the International Human Rights System: The European Situation in View of the Asylum and Migration Crisis”

AffiliationDepartment of Law, Aarhus University, DENMARK

Bio:  In addition to his work as a law professor at Aarhus University, Jens Vedsted Hansen is a member of the following institutions and agencies: the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) since 2012; the Danish Equal Treatment Board (since 2015); the Danish Refugee Appeals Board (from 1987-1994 and 2013-2016); and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (from 2009 to 2016).  With an eye to his forthcoming presentation at the 2017, some of his relevant publications include New Asylum Countries? Migration Control and Refugee Protection in an Enlarged European Union (2002); ‘European non-Refoulement Revisited’ (2010).  Scandinavian Studies in Law 55: 269-83; ‘Reception Conditions as Human Rights: Pan-European Standard of Systemic Deficiencies?’ (2016)  Reforming the Common European Asylum System: The New European Refugee Law: 317-52; and ‘Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrant Workers’ (2012).  International Protection of Human Rights: A Textbook: 331-52.

Abstract:  Against the background of the current challenges facing the international human rights system, the question will be raised whether this is a legitimacy crisis for human rights as a concept and as normative principles that gained political support and legal status in the aftermath of Holocaust and World War II. As alternative or supplementary explanations, the challenges could be perceived as structural or institutional problems that threaten the effective functioning of the international monitoring system or the national implementation of human rights.  Whatever the level and nature of the crisis, a search for relevant causes is called for in order to understand the challenges and rebuild trust in the principles and underlying values of human rights.

Political discourse may suggest that the main problem is that of international control that tends to reduce the scope of manoeuvre for sovereign states, along with judicial control of the legislative and executive branches of government. In addition, the political frustration is often addressing those human rights norms that tend to protect ethnic, religious and other minorities.  This invites consideration of the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law, as well as the tendencies of globalisation and transnational entities that more generally challenge the sovereign powers of state authorities. The discussion will in particular focus on the situation in Europe in the light of populist tendencies and the asylum and migration crisis. It will also address suggestions made to reemphasise the ‘original intentions’ of human rights.