TED-ed: How languages evolve

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Talking or typing: you can’t hide your lies

Linguistic analysis involves making a detailed analysis of the content of a questioned document to compare it with what its potential author writes and/or reads.

The basic premise is that no two people use language in exactly the same way. The pattern of unique differences in each person’s use of language and the repetition of those traits throughout his or her writing provide the internal evidence that links (or fails to link) a person to the questioned writing.

When analyzing a sample, such as a suicide note, forensic linguists examine the subject’s other writings or—with unknown subjects—search text databases that could contain similar language habits. The sample’s language can help establish the writer’s age, gender, ethnicity, level of education, professional training, and ideology.

Key items are vocabulary, spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation habits. Other kinds of textual evidence might include borrowed or influential source material, document formatting, and the physical document itself.

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