Forensic Linguistics Analysis: Police Interrogation


This study investigates the use of forensic linguistics tools in police interrogation texts. It identifies the problem of the lack of approaches informed by forensic linguistics used in the process of police interrogation. Two research questions are posed regarding the relative effectiveness of FL-informed approaches compared to usual approaches and specific FL tools to aid the interrogation process. This study looks at currently applied techniques, obstacles to the process, and suggestions for future integration through a comprehensive review of secondary literature. The literature review finds a minimal integration at the moment but identifies a hopeful array of suggested techniques for incorporation in the future.


The problem studied in this project is the lack of linguistically informed approaches utilized in data collection during the police interrogations. The extant body of literature has focused on the accuracy of documenting and reporting suspects’ words or on their analysis methods. Hence, there is a gap in knowledge on collecting data during the interrogations using forensic linguistics (FL) principles. The research questions are thus proposed: (RQ1) Are FL-informed approaches more effective than usual in police interrogations? (RQ2) What FL tools may be used to aid the interrogation process? These questions will be evaluated in the context of the spoken language of the legal process, where the nature of police interviews or interrogations with suspects is evaluated. This research is significant since it adds to previous research on interrogation reports, reproduction of accounts, and their interpretation as evidence in court by addressing the first step of information collection.

Literature Review

The literature on the process of interrogation and adjacent FL use is organized along the lines of the investigative process. The main aim of the interrogation is to recover the events and sufficient evidence; hence, consistent strategies are crucial (Apriyanto, 2020). Usually, FL experts help police identify suspects’ true motives and intentions through a detailed analysis of their language after collection (Syam, 2018). This review, however, investigates the present use of FL strategies at various stages of police interrogative processes.

Police Interrogation: Currently Applied Techniques

An Example of FL Tools and Analysis

This section explores the language of police interrogations of suspects, a topic currently less represented in the literature. Interrogators must convey their intentions accurately and effectively to obtain the information (Santoso & Apriyanto, 2020). For instance, Santoso and Apriyanto (2020) describe an FL-informed approach to interrogation, which utilizes conversational implicature. Further, they present discourse analysis to investigate data, describe interrogative language forms and patterns, and classify accordingly (Santoso & Apriyanto, 2020). This research demonstrates that FL may be applied beyond the analysis alone; in fact, pairing it with the implementation at the data collection stage may render it more effective (Santoso & Apriyanto, 2020). While this study demonstrates an essential link between FL and the interrogation process, it is limited to a single approach.

Other Techniques

Further, corpus linguistic methods have been found helpful in several applications. Specifically, the three main types of problems on which it has been tested are authorship disputes, trademark cases, and disputed meaning cases (Nini, 2019). The promising results of these types of studies point to the possibility of combining statistical methods and understanding of FL to improve practice in other areas (Nini, 2019). However, the challenge for this area of FL is collecting corpora large and stratified enough to be reliable (Nini, 2019). Collaboration between forensic linguists and law enforcement is necessary to solve this problem.

Police Interrogation: Obstacles

Communication between interrogators and suspects should be constructed to convey the message correctly. Byrman and Byrman (2018) examine how police investigators reproduce interviewees’ statements in narratives and direct and indirect speech and stress that varying linguistic techniques may alter the evidential value of reports. Documentation of verbatim quotations and statement sources is inconsistent (Byrman & Byrman, 2018). Hence, the lack of connection between FL and interrogation principles may obscure the events’ structure and sources of original statements.

The role of interrogation materials as evidence in the criminal justice system is hard to overestimate. Haworth (2020) looks at how the duality of investigative and evidential roles of this data affects its integrity. For instance, Haworth (2020) notes that interrogators often avoid pursuing any leads that may then support the defense. Ultimately, Haworth (2020) concludes that the nature of the interrogator’s role may interfere with the evidentiary quality of the collected data. Therefore, the research supports the sentiment that current interrogation practices should be better controlled and informed by the FL principles.

Another vital aspect that may obscure the understanding and hinder the interrogation process is the lack of shared language. Filipović and Gascón (2018) stress the importance of correct communication interpretation in the FL context, which applies to both intra- and inter-linguistic misunderstanding. Filipović (2022) identifies two sources of misunderstanding: inferential ambiguity and linguistic complexity and how to address them. Although these approaches are based on FL practice, this study does not present explicit FL tools.

Police Interrogation: Recommended Techniques

It becomes apparent that ensuring a better understanding of the linguistic principles by the officers is vital when one references the current reproducing and reporting techniques. Rock (2020) examines suspects’ oral testimonies, stressing the importance of conversation and its subsequent dissemination. Police training on interrogation techniques, topic control in the conversation, narrative, transformative, and contextual processes are suggested (Rock, 2020). Additionally, strategies are suggested to overcome confusion in interrogative processes. Officers should avoid complexity and use more straightforward statements and questions; second, they should calibrate their insistence on resolving ambiguity and leave some unchallenged to avoid antagonizing it (Filipović, 2022). Futher, Filipović and Gascón (2018) suggest several professional practices to prevent cross-language differences from disqualifying the evidentiary value of the data. These practices include bilingual transcripts, backup interpreters, and incorporating applied language typology, an FL methodic, into interpreting instruction (Filipović & Gascón, 2018). Hence, even when conducted across the language barrier, interrogation texts may benefit from FL methods.

Improving interrogation techniques may require both the FL experts and the police officers to strive for excellence. Meehan (2019) notes that analyzing recorded conversations helps extend the linguistic focus on the police “competencies-in-action” (p. 162). Meehan (2019) addresses police interrogation procedures, suggesting using applied conversation analysis for the officers to evaluate and potentially improve interrogation. Rather than offering specific FL tools, Meehan (2019) poses questions regarding communicating police suspicions, expectations, and conditions upon which they may benefit from the doubt. These questions may enable the police to evaluate interrogation approaches critically.

Identifying false testimony or information concealment is another necessary condition for a successful interrogation. Galyashina (2021) challenges the evidentiary admissibility of present expert conclusions and calls for developing methods based on FL and cognitive theory. Wojciechowski et al. (2018) investigate the use of the statement validity assessment (SVA) and multivariable adults’ statements assessment model (MASAM) to increase the ability to distinguish between true and false statements. Interrogators trained to use MASAM and SVA techniques are significantly more correct than those who solely used their judgments (Wojciechowski et al., 2018). Hence, there is support for using FL methods to identify information falsification in the interrogative processes.


First, a type of forensic text, in this case, police interrogation text, was selected. Then, scholarly publications on the pertinent topic were selected through various search engines and refined according to their pertinence. Several articles have been subsequently eliminated upon reviewing their abstracts, leaving 12 publications to be included and analyzed in this review. The included publications cover collecting, reporting, analyzing, and interpreting as evidence the words of suspects, offenders, and witnesses, all using FL tools. Several analytical methods were used, such as retrospective analysis of scientific literature, comparative logical analysis, methods of extrapolation, and content analysis.


The literature review results yielded a minimal presence of specific FL tools used explicitly in the police interrogation processes. Santoso & Apriyanto (2020) demonstrate FL’s applicability beyond the text analysis and showcase that pairing discourse analysis with the implementation at the data collection stage is possible. Nini (2019) demonstrates the use of corpus linguistic analysis in various applications and suggests that it may also be helpful coupled with interrogation texts. Moreover, obstacles are recognized: Byrman and Byrman (2018) document challenges in the inconsistent quotation and sources documentation. Haworth (2020) identifies interrogators’ bias in collecting data due to their dual interrogator and evidential role. Filipović & Gascón (2018) identify the challenge of a language barrier and several techniques to aid it, including bilingual transcripts, backup interpreters, and applying language typology. Overall, challenges may come from any point in communicating.

Further, Filipović (2022) classifies two sources of misunderstanding: inferential ambiguity and linguistic complexity, suggesting techniques for combating them, such as clarity and calibrated insistence. Other recommendations include police training on interrogation, topic and turn control in the conversation, and various transformative processes (Rock, 2020). Meehan (2019) suggests improving communication from the interrogators’ side on their expectations and conditions. Lastly, Wojciechowski et al. (2018) suggest using MASAM and SVA techniques to detect false information in the interrogation. The findings present more information on potential than used techniques.


Based on the study of interrogation texts using various tools, FL techniques improve the quality of interrogation, thus answering RQ1 fully. Interrogation’s context and process influence its outcome, a critical observation for the RQ1, calling for further research due to the poorly understood mechanisms of FL-informed data collection. Based on the limited information regarding the FL tools and analyses used in interrogation processes, RQ2 is not answered fully. In line with the RQ2, some elements crucial to the police interrogation processes in the context of FL are identified. However, while the present literature is critical for pointing out the direction of further investigative work, it does not elaborate on the tools’ transformative effect sufficiently or only presents general ideas.


In conclusion, the literature review demonstrates few currently applied FL techniques in the interrogation process, taking the topic of implicature in conversation and its discourse analysis as an example. Additionally, the corpus linguistic method is alluded to have potential in this application. Obstacles to the successful process are identified: inconsistent documentation, interrogator’s bias, language barrier, falsification of information, and miscommunication. The literature recommends several potential FL techniques incorporated into the interrogative practices to address these issues. Among them are police training on FL-informed interrogation techniques, communication strategies, conversation control, and false information identification using SVA and MASAM. This research answers the RQ1: FL techniques are proven to improve the quality of police interrogation. The RQ2, however, is not answered fully: while some tools are identified, the available information is limited in the current literature. Hence, further research is needed to establish specific FL tools helpful for interrogative processes.


Apriyanto, S. (2020). A forensic linguistic point of view of implicational conversations in police interrogation: A review. Talent Development and Excellence, 12(1), 3370–3384.

Byrman, G., & Byrman, Y. (2018). In evidence: Linguistic transformations of events in police interview reports. Nordic Journal of Linguistics, 41(2), 155–181. Web.

Filipović, L. (2022). The good, the bad and the ugly: Miscommunication in UK police interviews and US police interrogations. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology. Web.

Filipović, L., & Gascón, A. H. (2018). Interpreting meaning in police interviews: Applied language typology in a forensic linguistics context. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 15, 67–104. Web.

Galyashina, E. I. (2021). The challenges of forensic linguistic analysis of false testimony. The European Journal of Social & Behavioural Sciences, 30(3), 236–250. Web.

Haworth, K. (2020). Police interviews in the judicial process: Police interviews as evidence. In M. Coulthard, A. May, & R. Sousa-Silva (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics (2nd ed., pp. 144–158). Routledge.

Meehan, A. J. (2019). Egon Bittner and the language practices of the police. IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science, 22(11), 65–97. Web.

Nini, A. (2019). Corpus analysis in forensic linguistics. In C. A. Chapelle (Ed.), The Concise Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics (1st ed., pp. 313–319). John Wiley & Sons.

Rock, F. (2020). Witnesses and suspects in interviews. Collecting oral evidence: The police, the public and the written word. In M. Coulthard, A. May, & R. Sousa-Silva (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics (2nd ed., pp. 112–126). Routledge.

Santoso, D., & Apriyanto, S. (2020). Pragmatics implicature analysis of police interrogation: Forensic linguistics analysis. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, 24(6), 115–124. Web.

Syam, S. K. (2018). Aspects of forensic linguistics in policing. Language In India, 18(12), 100–112.

Wojciechowski, B. W., Gräns, M., & Lidén, M. (2018). A true denial or a false confession? Assessing veracity of suspects’ statements using MASAM and SVA. PLoS ONE, 13(6), 1–19. Web.

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