International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 24, No 1 (2017)

Register variation in malicious forensic texts

Andrea Nini
Issued Date: 14 Jun 2017


The study reported here examines a corpus of 104 authentic malicious forensic texts for register variation. A malicious forensic text is defined in this paper as a text that is threatening, abusive or defaming and that constitutes evidence for a forensic case. This corpus was firstly tagged with a set of situational parameters and then analysed using the same multidimensional model introduced in Biber (1988; 1989). The results of the study indicate that malicious forensic texts, similarly to non-malicious professional letters, are on average instances of the Involved Persuasion text type, which is characterised by linguistic features overtly expressing modality. The results also confirm that threatening texts tend to use more modal verbs than non-threatening texts. Furthermore, the personal knowledge between interactants was found to highly influence the level of information density of the texts, while the narrativity level of malicious texts was found to be affected by whether the text contains harmful content directed to the addressee or to a third party. These findings can inform and improve the authorship analysis of malicious texts and increase our understanding of the creation of language crimes.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.30173


Baayen, H. (2008) Analyzing Linguistic Data: A Practical Introduction to Statistics using R. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bell, A. (1984) Language style as audience design. Language in Society vol. 13: 145–204.

Berman, R. (2008) The psycholinguistics of developing text construction. Journal of Child Language vol. 35: 735–771.

Biber, D. (1989) A typology of English texts. Linguistics, vol. 27: 3–43.

Biber, D. (1994) Register and social dialect variation: An integrated approach. In D. Biber and E. Finegan (eds) Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Register 315–347. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Biber, D. (1993) Representativeness in Corpus Design. Literary and Linguistic Computing vol. 8: 243–257.

Biber, D. (2006) University Language: A Corpus-Based Study of Spoken and Written Registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Biber, D. (1988) Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Biber, D. and Conrad, S. (2009) Register, Genre, and Style. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Biber, D. and Jones, J. (2005) Merging corpus linguistic and discourse analytic research goals: Discourse units in biology research articles. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory vol. 1: 151–182.

Bromley, D.B. (1991) Aspects of written language production over adult life. Psychology and Aging vol. 6: 296–308.

Coulthard, M. and Johnson, A. (2007) An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics. London: Routledge.

Dancey, C. P. and Reidy, J. (2011) Statistics without Maths for Psychology. Harlow: Prentice Hall.

FBI, FBI Vault. Available at: [Accessed January 1, 2012].

Fraser, B. (1998) Threatening revisited. Forensic Linguistics vol. 5: 159–173.

Gales, T. (2011) Identifying interpersonal stance in threatening discourse: An appraisal analysis. Discourse Studies vol. 13: 27–46.

Gales, T. (2010) Ideologies of Violence: a Corpus and Discourse Analytic Approach to Stance in Threatening Communications. Unpublished PhD thesis.

Gales, T. (2015) The stance of stalking: a corpus-based analysis of grammatical markers of stance in threatening communications. Corpora vol. 10: 171–200.

Grant, T. (2008) Approaching questions in forensic authorship analysis. In J. Gibbons and M. T. Turell (eds) Dimensions of Forensic Linguistics 215–231. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Grant, T. (2010) Txt 4n6: Idiolect free authorship analysis. In Coulthard, M. (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics 508-523. London: Routledge.

Gray, B. (2013) More than discipline: Uncovering multi-dimensional patterns of variation in academic research articles. Corpora vol. 8: 153–181.

Grieve, J., Biber, D. and Friginal, E. (2011) Variation among blogs: A multi-dimensional analysis. Genres on the Web vol. 42: 303–322.

Kaplan, J. P. (2016) Case report: Elonis v. United States. The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law vol. 23(2): 275–292.

Kelleher, M. D. and Van Nuys, D. (2002) ‘This is the Zodiac Speaking’: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. Westport, Conn.; London: Praeger.

Kniffka, H. (2007) Working in Language and Law: A German Perspective. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

McMenamin, G.R. (2002) Forensic Linguistics: Advances in Forensic Stylistics. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press.

Nini, A. (2015a) Multidimensional Analysis Tagger 1.3 - Manual. Available at:

Nini, A. (2015b) Authorship Profiling in a Forensic Context. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Aston University, UK.

Nini, A. and Grant, T. (2013) Bridging the gap between stylistic and cognitive approaches to authorship analysis using Systemic Functional Linguistics and multidimensional analysis. International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, vol. 20(2): 173–202.

Napier, M. and Mardigian, S. (2003) Threatening messages: The essence of analyzing communicated threats. Public Venue Security. September/October: 16-19.

Olsson, J. (2003) Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language, Crime and the Law, London: Continuum.

Pennebaker, J. W. (2011) The Secret Life of Pronouns: What our Words Say about us, New York; London: Bloomsbury Press.

Searle, J. (1979) Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shuy, R. (2010) The Language of Defamation Cases, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Solan, L. and Tiersma, P. (2005) Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tiersma, P. (1987) The language of defamation. Texas Law Review vol. 66: 303–350.

Titak, A. and Roberson, A. (2013) Dimensions of web registers: An exploratory multi-dimensional comparison. Corpora vol. 8: 235–260.

Toutanova, K., Klein, D., Manning, C., and Singer, Y. (2003) Feature-rich part-of-speech tagging with a cyclic dependency network. Proceedings of HLT-NAACL 2003. 252–259.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy