Forensic linguistics encompasses a wide variety of disciplines. Dr. Perlman specializes in four of them, deriving from his academic background and his real-world experience as a writer and editor.
(1) Interpretation of contracts, wills, laws, and other binding documents: expert judgment on clarity, meaning, comprehensibility and (un)ambiguity.
What was intended to be said — and what, if anything, does the document actually say? Is it ambiguous, and, if so, what are the possible interpretations, given the semantics, syntax, and pragmatics (roughly, the intent and purpose) of the text(s) in question?
Prenups and other contracts designed to be air-tight are exactly where writing problems occur, as people try to execute complex ideas and cover all contingencies.
Dr. Perlman analyzes specific words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and other units, including the entire document, to offer informed judgments on clarity, comprehensibility, and (un)ambiguity.
Case example: A man suffered damages from defective rental equipment; he did not know that he had released the company from liability by signing a contract that was, when quantitatively compared with everyday writing (e.g., USA Today), too complex to understand.
Category ambiguity: Some of Dr. Perlman’s cases involved the well-known “attachment ambiguity,” e.g., They fired the VP in New York. Was NY where the firing took place? Or was it the local VP who was fired?
(2) Plagiarism: expert opinion on likelihood of plagiarism.
In the Internet age, plagiarism – deliberate, dishonest appropriation of another’s words and/or ideas — has been redefined.
Problems occur when the traditional definitions are applied: similarity of text, which is what plagiarism tools find, is not a basis for a charge of plagiarism. It is not unique but prosaic information that is most likely copied, thus undermining the traditional charge of plagiarism. Much more is in the public domain than ever before.
Case example: The creator of an online course found it stolen and being offered – with sentence structure modified — by someone else. Dr. Perlman helped substantiate his charges.
Case examples: Dr. Perlman has defended many academic writers, from college students to law professors, against groundless charges of plagiarism, which are often based on (i) similarity of items in the public domain or (ii) misunderstanding of the institution’s quotation/paraphrase rules.
In literary plagiarism allegations, one writer accuses another of stealing his/her ideas. But these usually turn out to be widespread, occurring in typical books of this genre. Courts have ruled that elements of theme and setting are not protectable..
(3) Copyright/trademark infringement: informed judgment on the genericity, specificity, and protectability of individual words, phrases, and brand names; assessment of linguistic similarity to evaluate infringement claims.
The question here is: to what extent is the item already part of the language (unless it’s a “fanciful” term like Xerox or Xanax, the most easily protectable)?
If it is already a lexical unit, it can still be trademarked, even if it’s suggestive (DAWN, JOY) or descriptive (SimpleGreen). But you cannot market a name that already stands for a whole category of items, e.g., Pants.
However, there is also a large class of generic trademarks: terms, items, or symbols already in the public domain but which marketers attempt to use as brands, e.g., DELTA (airlines, faucets, dental care). This class includes ACME, APEX, A-1, UNIVERSAL…the list is almost endless, because it includes place-names (MONADNOCK APPLIANCE CENTER).
Even idiomatic terms can become frozen into generic brand names. ACCIDENT AND INJURY is the brand name associated with a variety of services, and the idiomatic meaning is carried over every time: it’s never “accidents AND injuries” ( = ‘we offer a separate service for each’) but “services related to injuries resulting from accidents.”
NOTE: Linguistically, the legal categories do not admit of sharp divisions.
— A descriptive mark is suggestive because it is derived from product properties by various processes, including figurative speech, e.g., EVERREADY selects a salient property, durability, and applies hyperbole (it does run out eventually).
— A suggestive mark is descriptive in the sense that it borrows some property or the product/service that’s being branded, even if only metaphorically (TIDE).
— Even fanciful marks can be descriptive/suggestive by using sounds and word-parts creatively. While many are nonsensical (XELJANZ uses a lot of odd letters, so it must be potent), others others are memorable because they convey brand promise and value. VIAGRA is so effective because it reminds one immediately of a romantic place, while the V has many positive connotations around “virility.”
Dr. Perlman also considers cases in which one company’s mark may be too similar to another’s, causing confusion to consumers or clients.
Case example: Dr. Perlman demonstrated that another marketer’s brand name was, on several linguistic levels, similar to that of the attorney’s client.
(4) Authorship: Dr. Perlman conducts analysis of a language sample — the grammar, lexicon, and other features — to offer an expert opinion on the likelihood of particular suspected writers, single-author/forged texts, and other legal/linguistic hypotheses, via a method verified in thousands of academic studies and real-world cases.
Here’s where his vast experience in text analysis is relevant. Everybody has a writing style — some more obvious than others — and he can usually make an authorship call with some (or a lot of) certainty based on feature occurrence and pattern similarities. If the writer is a foreign language speaker, his/her style will be even more obvious.
Case example: anonymous letters of complaint to a company’s Board; forged letters (by a single author) in employment dispute.
Case example: An ex-husband’s new wife was writing emails over his signature. Dr. Perlman was asked to identify the elements of her style and help resolve the disputed authorship.
Other examples from the above four case categories:
Expert opinion on status of compound words (trademark infringement litigation).
Expert opinion on plagiarism of song lyrics (copyright litigation involving musical group The Who).
Authorship analysis of e-mails in Florida internal union dispute.
Preliminary analysis of authorship issues in malpractice litigation.
Expert opinion on authorship issues in business partnership dispute involving anonymous writings.
Authorship analysis of anonymous letters of complaint to a corporation’s Board of Directors.
Expert opinion on the semantics of trademark infringement in litigation by an apparel firm.
Authorship analysis of anonymous letters (possibly written by disgruntled employees) for major Midwestern corporation.
Authorship analysis of emails to website of a “cult deprogrammer.”
Expert opinion on linguistic similarities between plaintiff’s and defendant’s trademarks.
Authorship analysis of defamatory emails written to an individual in a corporation.
Authorship advice on a possibly forged stock transfer document.
Authorship analysis of letters involved in the Son of Sam case.
Analysis to support allegations of plagiarism of online course material.
Interpretation of contract language regarding the disposition of acquired corporate entities.
Defense against charges of academic and student plagiarism (several cases).
Analysis of chat transcripts to determine whether defendant engaged in enticement or seduction.
Authorship analysis of emails in divorce and custody disputes (several cases).
Expert opinion on whether The DaVinci Code was plagiarized from the client’s writing (it was not).
Offering a new service: editing and writing support
As of July 1, Dr. Perlman will officially (there have been unofficial cases) begin to advertise himself as an assistant/editor for legal documents and articles.
Need an expert?
Stipulated: attorneys and other legal professionals are in general good to excellent writers. But the law, as eminent linguist Roger Shuy put it, is overwhelmingly about language. In legal documents and articles, the most complex ideas have to be conveyed in the most understandable, persuasive, and unmistakable way.
There is typically room for improvement. Dr. Perlman can provide the benefit of his long years of experience in the improvement of most legal documents — emphasis on “most”: If they pass muster in the eyes of a former English professor, professional writer, and academic linguist…well, good for them! It’s a high bar. But still, most documents could benefits from a linguist’s evaluation, even if only a few sentences are improved. Often it’s more than that.
Consult him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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