Forensic transcription: Insights from and to linguistics

When:10 Mar 2015, 3pm - 4:30pm
Venue:130 UNSW Business School, UNSW (map ref E12)
Who:Dr Helen Fraser
Dr Helen Fraser


Linguists of all stripes use transcription from audio as a key tool of research and practice. However, though we have considerable practical experience with it, transcription as such is rarely the focus of research.

Criminal investigations increasingly involve covert recording of conversations. Due to the difficulty of controlling the recording conditions, the audio is frequently of extremely poor quality, to the extent the speech is barely audible. Over the past 30 years, the legal system has developed processes and precedents that govern the transcription and presentation of poor quality audio evidence. Unfortunately this has been done with little input from linguistics, and the results are not always ideal.

This presentation briefly surveys (a) what is known in linguistic science about transcription; and (b) how transcription of poor quality audio is handled in the legal process.

It then looks at what advice linguistics can currently offer to the legal system regarding forensic transcription, and at what new challenges are posed to our ideas about transcription by the need to interpret indistinct forensic audio. It ends by suggesting some directions for innovative interdisciplinary research.

About Helen Fraser

Dr Fraser is a specialist in cognitive phonetics. She studied linguistics and phonetics at Macquarie University and the University of Edinburgh, then lectured for many years at the University of New England, Armidale. Since 2009 she has worked as an independent researcher, and as a consultant in both forensic transcription, and spoken communication between native and non-native speakers of English.

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