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This forum will introduce the audience to a relatively new branch of linguistics—forensic linguistics—that functions at the crossroads of language and the law. Barely a few decades old, the discipline has already made major contributions to the legal system: Analyses of language evidence have allowed forensic linguists to profile and sometimes even identify potential perpetrators (most famously in the Unabomber case), to exclude potential suspects through voice identification, to assist in cases of plagiarism and trademark disputes, to help the court decide whether language crimes have been committed (e.g., bribery, threats, slander, plagiarism) and to determine whether non-native speakers of English have been afforded due process. The treatment of non-native speakers of English has become a particular concern in a society that is becoming increasingly linguistically diverse. Until now, however, no single forum has focused on the status of non-native speakers of English in the US legal system. The purpose of the present forum is to initiate a dialog between linguistic experts and stakeholders, with a focus on three areas: comprehension of the Miranda rights, quality of court interpreting, and linguistic discrimination in the workplace.

The invited speakers for this forum are leading experts in these important areas of forensic linguistics, and most of them have served as expert witnesses in court, including in high-profile cases (e.g., the Boston Marathon bombing). Their experience and research in these areas have revealed critical disparities between current practices, on the one hand, and non-native speakers’ rights and needs, on the other. These disparities can be found in the English-only policies of some US workplaces, the manner in which Miranda rights are presented to non-native speakers of English, the training of court interpreters, and society’s overall understanding of the unique difficulties experienced by L2 learners of English in dealing with legal language. The invited speakers will draw on specific court cases to illuminate these disparities, and will then discuss best practices that ensure fuller language access for people with limited English proficiency. The awareness raised by this forum and the best practices discussed will be of great value to legislators and other elected officials, attorneys and members of the judiciary, law enforcement representatives, members of immigrant communities and the organizations that serve them, teachers of English as a second language, and faculty and students from multiple colleges and departments, including Linguistics, Communication, Sociology (Criminology), and the SJ Quinney College of Law. Faculty and students in programs dealing with forensic studies (e.g., Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Chemistry) will also find a great deal of value in the forum.

Admission to the forum will be free and open to the public.

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Last Updated: 2/23/18