Forensic Lexicology, Linguistics & Semiotics
orking in conjunction with trailblazers at both the Research in Forensic Semiotics Unit at the University of Toronto, as well as at the Forensic Linguistics Institute in the United Kingdom, I am one of a handful of scholars studying interdisciplinary, forensic applications of language in the context of criminal offending.
Specializing in the written content of hold-up notes, ransom letters, and cases of electronic aggression and delinquency—including cyberbullying—my funded research is focused on what I call forensic lexicology. While lexicology is not a new discipline and describes the function of words in effecting meaning and symbolism in documents and written communications generally, forensic lexicology describes the research and analysis of writings that are inherently criminogenic; specifically, the way that word structures, linguistic registers, and syntax are configured to enable criminal behavior and the commission of specific offences that require written materials.
Cyberbullying in particular is a systemic social problem that can benefit greatly from forensic lexicology, as all instances of cyberbullying employ some element of lexical or syntactic decision making by offenders. My current federally-funded research initiative, “Syntax and Cyberbullying: A Linguistic Etiology of Offending” is the first known study of its kind to populate a database of recurring keywords and screen names used in both reported and unreported acts of cyberbullying. Many of these samples are collected and curated through the research assistants operating my purpose-built web page, cyberbullyingreporter.com.
To learn more about this initiative or to participate in the study, please follow the link to the site. The project is expected to expand in coming years to include a multilingual and device-specific analysis of online offending and predation.