LornaFadden, PhD
Asst. Professor of Linguistics

Department of Linguistics

8888 University Drive        
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia
Canada V5A 1S6
fadden @ sfu.ca   

Forensic Linguistic Consulting


Research Interests

Primarily, my research is in discourse analysis, mostly of police interviews and other legal discourse, but I also carry out analyses of conversation and communication more generally in my case work.

Discourse Strategies in Police Interviews

The police interview is a unique type of institutional discourse, owing to its importance in the chain of evidence collection for prosecution and defense. As such, the mechanics of police interviews should be well understood. I am interested in discourse strategies, particularly identifying the ways in which investigators move the conversation in order to elicit relevant information of maximum use to the investigation, as well as the strategies that suspects use to attempt to shift topics within the confines of an interview--no easy feat when topic and turn selection is never relegated to them.
This area of research is of particular importance given the increasing prevalence of Critical Discourse Analysis in the legal domain and its emerging connection with sociolinguistic inquiry. As police interviews are often submitted as evidence in trials, it is imperative that linguists contribute toward the understanding of the discourse and social elements at work in this setting.

Applied Discourse Ananlysis

I have applied discourse analysis in a variety of Canadian and American cases. Recently:
  • A police interview in which it was suspected that a child had been 'coached' into alleging sex assault. (US)
  • A set of text messages where it was unclear as to whether they constituted a suicide note. (US)
  • A set of emails containing questionable confessions of abuse. (Canada)
  • A survey that had been tampered with to favour the suspect's interests. (Canada)
  • A series of bomb threats. (Canada)

Intercultural Communication

Case studies on the discourse behaviour of western Canadian First Nations suspects in police interviews have brought to light a number of interesting sociolinguistic observations. Under questioning, qualitatively, First Nations suspects are more likely to deny allegations, whereas Caucasian suspects are more likely to dispute them. A denial often entails little more than saying "no, that didn't happen", offering nominal or no alternative account. A dispute sees the suspect offering a different version of events, with or without a denial of the allegation.  In other words, some suspects readily offer information and some do not. Quanitatively, FN suspects' speech rates are lower and pauses longer that their caucasian counterparts; caucasian suspects produce considerably more speech overall than do FN suspects, judging from the ratio of investigators to suspects; and FN suspects use considerably more hedging and other message 'tempering' strategies. These differences may have an effect on how the interview proceeds, and later on, it may affect jurors' impressions--all areas that remain to be explored. Stemming from this line of research, I strongly recommend that any cultural sensitivity training incorporate a linguistic component, as it is through language that *mis*communication arises.

Discourse and Prosody

My doctoral research examined the prosody (tempo, pause, and pitch) of suspects' speech during police interview. I categorized response types on the basis of the types of information that they contain. For example, suspects may confirm or reject what the investigator asks or asserts, or they may offer new information. Sometimes, they go off topic and sometimes they make confessions. I found that certain types of responses were accompanied by specific prosodic characteristics. For example, relevant responses to police questions are uttered at a lower pitch, and at a slower rate than irrelevant responses, which were uttered at a higher pitch and at a faster rate. It was also found that as groups, first time suspects' and repeat suspects' responses differed significantly from one another in terms of prosodic characteristics. This ought to be taken into consideration in any research on vocal properties of deception.

The unique setting of the police interview and its participants' behaviour has not been as widely studied as other types of institutional discourse  and would therefore be of interest to conversation and discourse analysts. Furthermore, owing to the emotionally charged nature of police interviews, those who explore the prosody and emotion interface may also benefit from findings arising from this work.

In conducting work on police interviews, I gratefully acknowledge the professional insight, interest, and assistance from Sgt. L. Rankin (Vancouver Police Department, Integrated Homicide Investigation Team), Sgt. D. Dickson (New Westminster Police Service), and Cpl. N. Levas (Burnaby RCMP).

  • Fadden, Lorna (2011) "How (un)helpful is prosody to deception research. To be presented at the 10th IAFL conference, Aston University, Birmingham UK.
  • Fadden, Lorna (accepted) "Forensic Discourse Analysis." To appear in the Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Fadden, Lorna, & Joseph Pendleton (submitted). Cultural sensitivity training: why linguists must be consulted.
  • Fadden, Lorna (2009) "The cognitive status of referring expressions in police interviews."  presented at the International Association of Forensic Linguists 9th Biennial Conference, Vrije Universitat, Amsterdam. July 6-9, 2009.
  • Fadden, Lorna (2008) "Prosodic Profiles: Suspects' Speech during Police Interviews." Ph.D. Dissertation. Simon Fraser University.
  • Fadden, Lorna (2008) "Prosodic Profiles of Suspects' Speech: A Comparison of First-timers and Repeat Offenders." In Proceedings of the 2nd European IAFL Conference on Forensic Linguistics, Barcelona, Spain, Sept 16-18, 2006.
  • Fadden, Lorna (2007) Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses of Police Interviews with Canadian Aborginal and non Aboriginal Suspects. In Kredens, K. & S. Goźdź-Roszkowski (Eds). Language and the Law: International Outlooks. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang GmbH
  • Fadden, Lorna (2007) "To Deny or Dispute: discourse strategic differences between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal  suspects" presented at the International Association of Forensic Linguists 8th Biennial Conference on Forensic Linguistics/Language and the Law, Seattle, Washington, July 2007.
  • Fadden, Lorna (2006) "Can't Stand the Heat: Suspects' Attention Deflecting Strategies." In Proceedings of the Northwest Conference on Linguistics, Simon Fraser University, Feb 18-19, 2006.
  • Fadden , Lorna (2006) "The Prosody of Suspects' Speech during Police Interviews." In Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden, Germany. May 2-5, 2006.
  • Fadden, Lorna (2006) "Prosodic Profiles of Suspects' Speech." Conference on Language, Psychology and the Law, University of Leicester, UK. July 10-12, 2006.

Recent work on Aboriginal Varieties of English

Teaching at SFU

Teaching at UBC

Industry Experience

Miskomin Consulting forensic linguistic consulting
Axonwave Software (2001-2005) I had the good fortune of working here for four years, providing linguistic expertise on a variety of projects including text categorization, redaction, and intelligent searching

Mindfuleye Inc. (2000-2001) I was responsible for lexicon development and linguistic testing for artificial intelligence.

More on Discourse and Prosody

During my doctoral years, Nancy Hedberg and Juan Sosa and I explored the meanings that various intonation patterns lend to sentences. Nancy Hedberg has a good description of our work here.

Master's Thesis (2000)

The Inverse Continuum
In this thesis I survey a number of the world's languages that have been claimed to have inverse systems like that which is most commonly attributed to the Algonquian language family which includes Cree, Ojibwa and Michif. An inverse system is a morphosyntactic system in which the direction of action is encoded on verbs, and sometimes nouns, indicating who does what to whom. Cree provides the following example:

ni - wa:pam - a:w  
1st - see  - 3rd/direct
"I see him."

ni -wa:pam - ik
1st - see - 3rd/inverse
"He sees me."

The ranking of persons in the Algonquian languages is: 2nd person ("you") outranks 1st person ("I/me"), which outranks 3rd person ("he/she/it"). The way the grammar handles this, is to use particular endings on verbs. So any time a first person acts on a third person,  for example, the verb ending looks like the one in a). Any time a third person acts on a first person, the verb ending looks like the one in b).
Previous authors have ascribed an inverse analysis to all sorts of languages, mostly from the Americas' Indigenous phylum, when in fact, they seem only to have an ordinary passive when a lower person acts on a higher person. In my thesis, I identify a set of formal and functional criteria to define inverse systems, and in doing so, I offer a continuum of types ranging from strong to weak on the basis of how many criteria the proposed inverse systems meet.

Places I belong

For Fun

Indonesian/Maori cognate identifier