One of the most useful resources for language on this course is you. Language is made up of so much more than the words we see printed on a page, so when you are thinking about language, come back to these ideas here to keep the range wide. We are often told there is a right way and a wrong way to use language but the more you study about language, the more you’ll realise that it’s more complicated and interesting than that.
You’ll also start to build up a bigger picture of the different influences on your own language identity as this course goes on, including all the factors that influence who you are linguistically and how you can choose to behave with language in different situations. One of the most interesting aspects of studying language is that you learn more about your own language use, so let’s make this first task all about you.
Create a ‘language profile’ of yourself by answering the following questions and then writing them up as a set of bullet points that highlight what you think are the most interesting and important aspects of the language you use:
As you learn more about language use, you’ll start to see that everybody has their own unique language style. Lots of things influence this – where we’re from, how old we are, the type of work we do and our interests, our family backgrounds and our own individual personalities but we all have what’s called an idiolect (an individual language style). It’s not quite the same as a fingerprint but there are some similarities. While detectives can use fingerprints to track down individuals, forensic linguists can also use this idea of individual language style to identify people or aspects of a person’s background.
This activity puts you in the role of a language detective trying to solve a crime. The police need your help to work out who might have sent an abusive social media message from an anonymous account to a local politician. They have three suspects in custody and your job is to offer a view on which one you think is most likely to have sent the message, based on possible language clues.
Exhibit 1: the abusive message
Hope your really proud of yourself for what you done but you gotta no that one day your gonna get payback!!! We have had enough of politicians like you not listening to us, you should of listened!!! Watch your back
Suspect 1’s social media message
I don’t like what’s been happening in this area since the new housing development started. This used to be a nice place to live!!! I’m so disappointed in are local representatives for not sticking up for us!!!
Suspect 2’s social media message
When are local councillors gonna realise that they should of been standing up for us and not for they’re mates in the big building firms, these people are gonna make a fortune from this
Suspect 3’s social media message
Your joking! Are they seriously going to build 200 new houses on the fields up by the hospital?! That is crazy. There’s not enough facilities for the rest of us at the moment. Madness!!!
This is a very simplified version of the kind of analysis forensic linguists sometimes do.
If you want to find out more about the real work forensic linguists do in solving crimes, have a look at the following videos:
Dr Tim Grant explains what’s involved
Dr Clare Hardaker on her research on online abuse (note the warning about content,
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