Linguistics and AFAS Colloquium--Linguistics, Life, and Death

John Baugh, Washington University

The field of “forensic linguistics” began quite by accident during the infamous Cullen Davis murder trial in 1976. This presentation begins with an account of the linguistic evidence presented during that trial, and continues with expert opinions and testimony that were developed by John Baugh for three other murder trials. All three cases pertain to crucial linguistic evidence regarding African American defendants accused of murder. Each case differs substantially, as does the linguistic evidence and testimony that proved relevant to each case. Whereas the Cullen Davis trial demanded extensive discourse analyses, the three additional murder cases described during this presentation include one instance of phonological evidence, another requiring survey data regarding racial innuendo, and the last case describes procedures that demanded analyses of intonation patterns.  Each case hinged on the linguistic evidence that will be described during this presentation. Moreover, these findings were vital to confirming innocence or guilt, and, by extension; the life or death of each defendant. The presentation concludes with a summation of the trials, along with a brief account of other ways in which linguistic science has been used for legal purposes.