Text-Linguistic Analysis in Forensic Authorship Attribution

Eilika Fobbe

Abstract


Authorship analysis of anonymous texts is one of the more frequently required tasks in a forensic setting. Its main purpose is either to gain information on the author’s linguistic and social background to support an investigation or to match an anonymous text to a suspect’s previous writings. One approach to authorship attribution is pragmatic stylistic analysis, which is grounded in text-linguistic research, cf. Brinker (2002), Sandig (2006), Püschel (2009), and Brinker et al. (2018), and holds a broad and holistic view on style. In its analyses, it focuses on the functional and pragmatic aspects of style as part of a communicative strategy. A central element, especially in Brinker’s approach, is the thematic text pattern. How individuals argue, how they arrange textual patterns and how they express their demands most certainly reveal aspects of their individuality (Brinker, 2002; Brinker et al., 2018), suggesting that these cannot be easily suppressed or disguised. The paper applies Brinker’s approach to three very short anonymous extortion letters illustrating how text-linguistic analysis can contribute to authorship attribution. Firstly, the text structure of the letters will be analyzed and secondly, the relations between text pattern and stylistic features will be examined in detail, and the relevance of the text patterns will be discussed with reference to the author’s idiolect. The paper aims to point out the possibilities of a more in-depth textual analysis beyond the analysis of surface structures, especially in cases of very small data sets.

Cite as: Fobbe, JLL 9 (2020), 93–114, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2020.093


Keywords


text-linguistics, genre, stylistics, thematic text pattern, authorship analysis, extortion letter

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References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14762/jll.2020.093

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