Lots of new publications

header of blog page at Research Hub for Language in Forensic EvidenceThe Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence has been publishing up a storm recently. Check some of the new work below, aimed at a variety of different audiences. One of the articles discusses a new experiment using the audio you may have marvelled about on the front page of this website.>>   Read the rest now

A new kind of forensic audio

police officer with little boy wearing his hatIf only all forensic audio were as cute as this! For those who like to learn something from every bit of audio – you might like to notice there are several indistinct sections in this recording. Most of them are readily resolved via the internal context (context of other words in the sample). But can you spot any errors or uncertainties in the transcript?>>   Read the rest now

Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence established at University of Melbourne

The School of Languages and Linguistics, and the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne, have established a new Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence.

The Hub aims to coordinate collaborative research involving linguistics, law and law enforcement, along with other disciplines, with the intention of assisting Australian courts to ensure that forensic evidence involving language and speech is used fairly and in the best interests of justice.>>   Read the rest now

New Handbook of Forensic Linguistics

The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics offers a comprehensive survey of the subdiscipline of Forensic Linguistics, with this new edition providing both updated overviews from leading figures in the field and exciting new contributions from the next generation of forensic linguists.>>   Read the rest now

New article in Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity

Enhancing forensic audio: What works, what doesn’t, and why

by Helen Fraser

‘Enhancing’ has become a routine part of preparing indistinct covert recordings for admission as evidence in criminal trials. Typically, evaluation of its effectiveness is seen as a simple matter of listening to determine whether the enhancement sounds ‘clearer’ than the original. This seems like a straightforward approach, but it brushes over many important issues which can adversely affect the fairness of the trial. This article outlines findings from experiments, case studies and scientific literature to show how enhancing can affect perception in surprising and unpredictable ways, without listeners’ conscious awareness. Discussion demonstrates that enhancing exacerbates, rather than mitigates, known risks of the jury being misled by an unreliable transcript. The conclusion indicates the direction in which to seek better procedures.>>   Read the rest now

Prize for best article

I am pleased and honoured to have been awarded the 2019 Rodney Huddleston prize for best article of 2018 in the Australian Journal of Linguistics for my paper Forensic Transcription: How Confident False Beliefs about Language and Speech Threaten the Right to a Fair Trial in Australia.>>   Read the rest now

Good news on Call to Action

On 8 December 2017, Australian linguists submitted a ‘call to action‘, asking the judiciary to review and reform legal procedures for handling indistinct covert recordings. The call to action was endorsed by all four major linguistics organisations in Australia, and covered four main areas of concerns: transcription, translation, speaker attribution and enhancing.>>   Read the rest now

Eye witness evidence is known to be highly unreliable – so how do ear witnesses compare?

How reliable are earwitnesses compared to eyewitnesses? (Image: The worst witness is an eyewitness)

Eyewitness evidence is known to be highly compelling in court

Unfortunately, it is also known to be highly unreliable

A very high proportion of wrongful convictions, discovered via DNA testing of historic evidence, have been shown to result from credible but inaccurate eyewitness testimony. (Check the Innocence Project for more detail.)>>   Read the rest now

New article showing dangers of ‘enhancing’ forensic audio

The third in a series of experimental articles demonstrating some little-known dangers of using ‘enhanced’ versions of indistinct forensic audio used as evidence in criminal trials has appeared. Fraser, H. 2019. Enhancing and priming at a voir dire: can we be sure the judge reached the right conclusion? Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences. The abstract and link are below.>>   Read the rest now

IAFL keynote speech by Helen Fraser

This is the video (53 minutes) of the keynote speech I gave on 4 July at the IAFL conference in Melbourne.

It is intended for a forensic linguistics audience, and, as mentioned in the first minute, it goes rapidly through some established background about forensic transcription and translation, in order to bring together some key points for discussion about what is needed in order to ensure reliable transcription and translation of forensic audio used as evidence in court. If you are not in the target audience, you are of course welcome to new this video, but you might find one of the other videos or readings available on this site gives you a better introduction.>>   Read the rest now

Some fabulous IAFL keynotes coming up!

IAFL keynote speakersThe IAFL 2019 Conference will include a thought-provoking and engaging programme of keynote presentations representing academic scholarship, professional legal and language practice, law enforcement and the judiciary on the International Association of Forensic Linguists conference theme of Access to Justice through Language. I’m proud to say I’ll be one of them!>>   Read the rest now

Want to participate in forensic experiments?

I am planning a series of new experiments on perception of indistinct forensic audio. It would be great to have a list of potential participants. If you are willing to help, please contact me. Don’t worry you will not be committing to anything, and you can opt out at any time. Below are answers to a few questions you might have – if you have another question, feel free to contact me and I will respond directly.


  • Experiments typically take around 10-20 minutes and involve listening to short segments of indistinct audio under various conditions, and answering questions about what you hear.
  • Participants generally rate experiments as interesting or very interesting.
  • You can remain completely anonymous if you wish.
  • You can always easily opt out of any experiment at any stage.
  • Most experiments ask you not to discuss your responses with anyone who has not already done the experiment.
  • To participate, you just need a standard computer or modern device, a quiet space, and headphones if you have them.
  • >>   Read the rest now

    New podcast on forensic transcription by the Macquarie Dictionary team

    Check out the Macquarie Dictionary podcast (especially Episode #22!)
    Did you know the Macquarie Dictionary has a podcast? It is called Word for Word, produced by Kate Sherington for Macquarie Dictionary and Pan Macmillan Australia – and it is excellent! They recently published Episode #22 featuring yours truly – and you’ll never guess what it is about…

    Forensic Linguistics – Crime and Punishment>>   Read the rest now

    Tutorial on forensic transcription Tues 4 Dec 2018, Sydney

    Coogee Beach, Sydney: venue for SST 2018

    I will be running a half-day tutorial on Forensic Transcription on Tuesday 4th December as part of the Tutorial Day preceding the Speech Science and Technology conference hosted by ASSTA and UNSW, and held in Coogee (a beachside suburb of Sydney). It will be possible to register for the tutorial day only – or of course you can stay and enjoy the full conference, which has some great keynote speakers.>>   Read the rest now

    My take on the laurel-yanny phenomenon

    Laurel and Hardy – until recently the most famous comedy duo involving someone called Laurel (their Wikipedia entry)

    Well there has certainly been a lot of publicity for the laurel/yanny clip recently. It is great to have so many people discussing speech and speech perception – but also a little disheartening that so much misinformation gets accepted as valid phonetics.>>   Read the rest now

    Enhancing indistinct forensic audio – how effective is it?

    ‘The Conversation’: A 1974 thriller in which enhancing an indistinct covert recording plays a key role. See wikipedia.
    On 16 May 2018, I gave a presentation at the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Academy of Forensic Science. I was honoured to be introduced by Justice John Champion, formerly Director of Public Prosecutions in Victoria, recently appointed as a judge in the Victoria Supreme Court, and Chairman of AAFS Victoria.
    Helen Fraser receives a pen from Justice John Champion after the presentation about enhancing forensic audio
    I am grateful to Dean Catoggio, General Manager of the National Institute of Forensic Science (ANZPAA NIFS), and Treasurer of AAFS Victoria, for the invitation to present. I appreciated the excellent questions and comments from the eminent group of forensic scientists and lawyers in the audience – not to mention the dinner and discussion afterwards. A video of my presentation is available below (48 mins; 60mB). Comments or questions are very welcome, as always, and particularly when I make controversial arguments, as I did here. This presentation and the one I gave to the

    AAFS in Sydney on Valentines Day>>   Read the rest now

    Linguistics seminar UNE 26 April 2018

    What do problems of forensic transcription reveal about theory and practice of transcription in linguistics?

    Helen Fraser

    Departmental seminar – video below (43min; 70mB)

    Recent research (e.g. Fraser, 2018) has revealed serious problems in the way transcripts are used to assist in the interpretation of indistinct covert recordings admitted as evidence in criminal trials (see forensictranscription.net.au). It is clear that linguists need to be involved in solving these problems, as shown by the recent Call to Action from ALS and ALAA to the Australian judiciary (see forensictranscription.net.au/news). But exactly what advice should we give? Transcripts of different kinds are used in nearly all branches of linguistic research, with practices varying widely from one context to another (Fraser, 2014). Which kind of transcript is most appropriate to the forensic context? Answering this and other relevant questions requires giving more explicit attention to theoretical concepts. What is a transcript? How can we be sure a transcript gives a reliable representation of the contents of a recording? Why did the legal system get it so wrong?>>   Read the rest now

    Legal precedent based on false beliefs proves hard to overturn

    New article in The Conversation

    Legal precedent based on false beliefs proves hard to overturn

    Judges consider their profession to be among the most accountable of those whose opinions and actions shape our society – but what happens when they make a mistake in their judgments? After all – judges are only human: mistakes must happen, however rarely.>>   Read the rest now

    Two new papers

    Two new academic papers give detailed background on the legal and linguistic issues behind the problems with the use of covert recordings as evidence in criminal trials that are canvassed on this site.>>   Read the rest now

    Plenary session at the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences

    Covert recordings as evidence in criminal trials

    Problems and solutions from the perspective of forensic phonetics

    SPEAKER: Dr Helen Fraser

    Summary: Covert recordings are collected during investigation of most major crimes, providing vital intelligence to detectives. Some are also used as forensic evidence in court: it is here that major problems can arise. Covert recordings are often very indistinct, and can easily be misinterpreted. In one colourful example, ‘he died after wank off’ was shown to be a mishearing of ‘he died after one cough’ (French and Stevens 2006). Over the past thirty years, the law has developed practices intended to overcome anomalies like this, and ensure juries reach a reliable interpretation of what is said, and who says it, in forensic audio.>>   Read the rest now

    A call to action: Australian linguists call on the judiciary to reform practices for using covert recordings as evidence in court

    Recent meetings of the Australian Linguistic Society (ALS) and the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia (ALAA) voted unanimously to send a Call to Action to the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA), asking them to facilitate review and reform of current practices for admission and use of covert recordings as evidence in criminal trials.>>   Read the rest now

    Randy Newman: Can he or can’t he?

    Here’s a short snippet of audio which people hear in different ways.

    What do you think – does he say ‘I can’ or ‘I can’t’?

    Why not take a straw poll of your friends and colleagues to see what they think – then read on for a scientific perspective!>>   Read the rest now

    Translators and covert recordings

    Many covert recordings contain speech in languages other than English. How should this be presented to the jury? Obviously simply providing a transcript is not enough. The speech needs to be translated into English to enable the court to understand what is going on. The process is called forensic translation.>>   Read the rest now

    New BBC Radio 4 show about forensic phonetics

    Impressionist Rory Bremner explores the role of the human voice in forensic phonetics.

    Forensic phonetics – or voice identification – has long been used in legal proceedings to help determine if the voice on a recording is that of the defendant. But with the electronic age enabling the recording and storage of more data than ever before, its role in criminal investigations is changing rapidly and the race is on to “fingerprint the human voice”.>>   Read the rest now

    ‘Assisting’ listeners to hear words that aren’t there: dangers in using police transcripts of indistinct covert recordings

    ABSTRACT Results are reported of a new experiment using an indistinct covert recording from a real murder trial, along with the police transcript admitted to ‘assist’ the court to hear its contents. Previous research using the same material has shown that the police transcript is inaccurate, yet nevertheless highly influential on the perception of listeners ‘primed’ by seeing words it suggests. The current experiment examines the effects of priming participants with a made-up phrase that vaguely fits the acoustics of one section of the recording. Results indicate that a very high proportion of listeners are easily ‘assisted’ to ‘hear’ the made-up phrase. Discussion argues that audio of this quality should only be used as evidence if accompanied by a reliable independent transcript.>>   Read the rest now

    Real forensic experts should pay more attention to the dangers posed by ‘ad hoc experts’

    ABSTRACT Recent years have seen a great deal of attention given to the reliability of expert evidence admitted in criminal trials. However, almost no attention has been given to the reliability of evidence provided by so-called ‘ad hoc experts’. Indeed, many forensic scientists seem unaware that such a category of witness even exists, much less of the substantial threats they pose to the fairness of our criminal justice system. ‘Ad hoc experts’ are used for a number of evidence types. Here, we concentrate on one type that appears in Australian courts on a weekly basis: interpretation of indistinct covert recordings. The aim is to draw the attention of AJFS readers to serious problems in the handling of this much-used form of evidence, in the hope that the AAFS might develop a position on the issues and support calls for reform of practice.>>   Read the rest now