New article on forensic transcription, written for linguists

My article ‘Forensic Transcription: How Confident False Beliefs about Language and Speech Threaten the Right to a Fair Trial in Australia’ has recently been published online by the Australian Journal of Linguistics, the official journal of the Australian Linguistics Society (ALS).

It tells the story of the case study featured on this website, as well as in some legal publications – but presented in a way that highlights the linguistics issues.

If you would like to read it but cannot get access to the article through a university affiliation, feel free to contact me for a copy.

Fraser, H. 2018. Forensic Transcription: How Confident False Beliefs about Language and Speech Threaten the Right to a Fair Trial in Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics. 38:4, 586-606 DOI: 10.1080/07268602.2018.1510760


Everyday knowledge about language and speech, or ‘folk linguistics’, incorporates a number of false beliefs that have a negative effect in a range of areas, nowhere more so than in the criminal justice system. One lesser known area where false beliefs have a major impact is forensic transcription (interpretation of indistinct covert recordings used as evidence in criminal trials). Without consultation of the linguistic sciences, the law has developed processes that allow police transcripts to ‘assist’ the courts in making out unintelligible covert recordings. The present article uses a case study of a real murder trial to bring the actual and potential injustice this creates to the attention of linguistic science, and examine the issues from a linguistics perspective. Having laid out the problem, it goes on to consider potential solutions, arguing that creating a better process requires deep collaboration between linguistics, law and law enforcement. From linguists, it requires improved theoretical understanding of the nature and structure of the false beliefs that underlie the existing legal processes, as well as development of a more general theoretical account of the process of transcription and the nature of transcripts.

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