Conference Agenda

Plenary 7: Prof Janet Ainsworth
Friday, 05/Jul/2019:
2:00pm - 3:00pm

Session Chair: Isabel Picornell
Location: Green Brain Conference Rooms 1 and 2
Storey Hall, level 7


The Future of Forensic Linguistics:Three Challenges and Three Opportunities

Janet Ainsworth

Forensic Linguistics has much to be proud of in its academic and practical accomplishments. However, our field faces serious challenges now and for the future. This presentation will look at three challenges and three opportunities.

First, the standards for admission of scientific evidence in court systems are becoming more stringent. At present, forensic linguistics is insufficiently prepared to meet those coming higher standards for admissibility.

A second challenge arises from changes in universities whereby foundational research is slighted in favor of research with immediate financial payoff. Universities have shifted focus from providing academically rigorous education to one favoring vocational training. So, fewer students study fields like linguistics and faculty lines are disappearing, challenging our future progress as senior scholars retire and are not replaced.

A related challenge is that increasingly bureaucratized universities push research agendas siloed by discipline, discouraging disciplinary cross-fertilization that results in fruitful new approaches to problems.

These challenges are daunting, but each provides us with the seeds of new opportunities. Tougher evidentiary standards in forensic evidence will push us to establishing error rates for forensic linguistic work based on pattern recognition. At the same time, we need to better articulate how interpretive social science is a reliable form of knowledge even when it cannot be reduced to quantifiable measures. We can overcome the challenges of changes in university structural incentives by increasing our collaboration with colleagues in other disciplines. Forensic linguistics is already an interdisciplinary field of inquiry; the future will lead us further in that direction.