Linguistic Analysis and Expert Testimony

What do these words really mean?

Conflicts between litigants are often centered on disagreement about language: what it means, what meaning was intended, and what importance a particular word, phrase, or passage has. Courts routinely make decisions about these matters in a variety of ways that typically depend on some authority, such as precedent or works of language reference such as dictionaries, usage guides, or definitions spelled out in legislation. Forensic Linguistics is the umbrella under which these various pursuits are gathered.

Linguists often provide input in such cases, owing to their expert knowledge of language in use. The areas in which the opinion of linguists may be consulted include the following:

        • Trademark and intellectual property disputes

      • Disputes concerning meaning and usage

        • Author attribution

        • Identification of plagiarism

        • Voice identification

        • Discourse analysis

My expertise has been used primarily in the area highlighted above, in disputes over meaning and usage. In a typical case I examine the language in question and compare the usage in dispute to dozens or thousands of other examples of words or phrases matching those in question, in contexts ranging from very similar to quite distinct.

My expert opinion typically informs the counsel of litigating parties about the prevailing interpretation and import of words and phrases. More often than not this has resulted in settlement out of court, as the parties come to agreement through mediation or other means.

My long experience (30 years) of writing dictionary definitions has informed my understanding of the use and limitations of dictionaries in litigation. I have access to gigantic databases of natural language in use (corpora) from different historical periods that often provide a more dependable foundation for my interpretation and understanding than dictionaries do.

Please write to me at orinhargraves at colorado dot edu for more details or for a free initial consultation. If your area of need is outside my expertise I can probably refer you to someone better suited to help you.