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
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:
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).