When Diana Queer disappeared and the police operation had been deployed to find her, an email arrived from her account with a brief phrase: don’t look for me, I’m fine. In this case, forensic linguistics expert Sheila Queralt intervened to rule out that this message could be used to attribute or discard any hypothesis, contrary to what other analysts speculated. «To determine the authorship of a text, about 300 words are needed“, Explain. “With a single sentence, as in the case of Diana Queer, it is not possible to determine a linguistic profile. Only from five or more equal words is there a probability that they were formulated by the same person, as long as it is not a common phrase and is idiosyncratic or particular ».
Since his formative years, when he discovered that forensic linguistics combined his two areas of interest, law and language, he has studied key cases, such as that of the American Unabomber, who was arrested thanks to the unusual way of writing his letters – anonymous. Or that of Anabel Segura, in Spain, in which the area where the kidnappers were was detected thanks to the analysis of the noise of a telephone call, as if the background of an image was reviewed.
Now Queralt works in his own laboratory, SQ-Forensic Linguists, and has published ‘Trapped by the tongue’ (Larousse). “Forensic linguistics is the analysis of language, oral and written, in police, judicial or private investigation contexts,” he says. “Further, language analysis can help people in their daily lives, such as understanding the administration’s obscure language, or in case of harassment, knowing that there is someone who can help you ».
– Can a criminal profile be made from the way it is written?
– Work is being done to determine a linguistic pattern depending on the profile of the criminals. I am very interested in serial scammers of women. I have studied several cases in Spain, such as Rodrigo Nogueira. These scammers have different linguistic patterns during the crime process. They use one type of vocabulary to make the victim fall in love, another at the beginning of the deception and a third when the victim realizes what is happening. For example, when he writes the letter to ask for the money, there is a lot of rush, reason and courtship. He uses very affectionate words and the sentence in which he asks for the money is very short, to minimize and decorate it. Then he uses evasive strategies to not respond and, when he has been discovered, seeks to cut contact and resorts to threats so that he does not report him.
–Are these strategies and words the result of studying their victims?
–They adapt very much to the victim. They do a social engineering of the profile. They look for them with money and that is why they are people with a high degree of education, such as lawyers or computer scientists. The scammer analyzes the victim’s environment to find out how to hunt her down. They use the tongue as a weapon, because it has the power to influence the actual actions of other people. It is part of the language of verbal aggression.
– Is language also a weapon in gender violence?
–In gender violence there is verbal abuse, words are used to mitigate the victim. Threats and insults that differ in each author. Some focus more on physical or sexual attributes and others on mental ones. For example, stupid, retarded, or dumb. They use bad words, and each one has their favorites.
– What is the most notable case resolved by forensic linguistics?
– Worldwide, that of Unabomber, one of the first to be resolved like this. But we are not always dedicated to catching bad guys, because we also help prove innocence, as in the case of Óscar Sánchez, imprisoned for mistaking him for a drug dealer after intercepting a call.
– How do you build an accusation based on a sentence, which can apparently belong to anyone?
– In a police process not only one science is taken into account, but several. To find out whether a phrase belongs to a person or not, the collection of traits, for example, of an anonymous person is checked. There are different levels. In the linguistic one is the syntax or the order of the words in the text; in the pragmatic is the emotion and the way in which orders are given or attacked; And then there is the type of complexity of the sentences, their length or the use of subordinate or coordinated phrases. Language is something alive and evolves throughout our lives. It also depends on the context and who you are talking to.
–It has never been written and published as much as now with social networks, has the incriminating evidence also increased?
–With social networks, crime is increasing, but also research. We are challenged to analyze much more material and change the focus. And yes, the more material, the more possibility of incriminating the one behind.