Friday, March 11, 2011

Hofstra Happenings: Hofstra Offers M.A. Specializing in Forensic Linguistics — The First Graduate Program of Its Kind in the United States

Hofstra is offering a new M.A. Program in Linguistics with specialization in the emerging science of forensic linguistics.   While programs like this currently
exist in the U.K. and Spain, this master’s program is the first of its kind in the United States. The study of forensic linguistics – the examination of language and the law – is increasingly being used as a tool of legal professionals law enforcement , and
the intelligence community. The first class entered in fall 2010.

Linguistics is the systematic, scientific study of language. Forensic linguistics refers to linguistics applied to any use of language with legal relevance. The M.A. in Linguistics: Forensic Linguistics is designed to meet a growing demand for advanced training in scientific language analysis. The program instructs students in the science of linguistics, and trains them in practical applications of linguistic theory to analytical problems, specifically in the legal arena. In addition to teaching the core linguistic tools of phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, dialectology and discourse analysis, the program includes specific training in the practical application of these tools to legal investigations, trials, analysis of contracts, statutes, etc. Thus, the program teaches linguistics, and whenever possible, the language data used for instruction are forensic.

Dr. Robert A. Leonard, the program director, is a longtime professor at Hofstra, internationally recognized as a foremost expert in this field of study.  He has worked as a consultant for the FBI, training agents in the use of forensic linguistics in law enforcement, threat assessment and counter-terrorism.  Other clients have included The New Yorker magazine, ABC-TV’s Investigative Unit, PA State Police, NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, New Jersey Attorney General, U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, and law firms that specialize in both civil and criminal cases.

Dr. Leonard’s expertise in forensic linguistics has led to his involvement in many high-profile cases, including the Taye Diggs-Idina Menzel arson threat letters, the Hummert murder, the McGuire “suitcase” murder, the Alvarez spy case, the doctored tape case involving the Canadian prime minister, and the John Karr episode of the JonBenet Ramsey murder (in which
Dr. Leonard’s analysis of the ransom note and Karr’s writing found no link, prior to the release of DNA results that came to the same conclusion).

Adviser to the program is Dr. Leonard’s colleague and research partner, Dr. Roger W. Shuy, distinguished research professor of linguistics, emeritus, of Georgetown University.  Known as the foremost forensic linguist in the United States, Dr. Shuy has consulted on some 550 cases. Dr. Leonard has recruited as faculty James R. Fitzgerald, former FBI chief of forensic linguistics  and supervisory special agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit-1: Counterterrorism and Threat Assessment. He is the only fully credentialed profiler and forensic linguist in the history of the FBI.

Graduates of the program will be qualified for employment in organizations needing professionals with research and linguistic skills, and in any field in which people work with language, including government and academic institutions, business, industry, and communications.  Students who continue on to a Ph.D. program in linguistics may be qualified to testify in court as expert witnesses, or consult on cases for law firms and government agencies.

For more information on the M.A. in Linguistics: Forensic Linguistics, contact Dr. Leonard at 516-463-5440 or


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