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Forensic Linguistic Expert Testimony in German court cases. Past and present. A note on range of variation, diversity, heterogeneity


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This paper tries to sum up some 50 years of Forensic Linguistic Expert Testimony (henceforth: FLET) in or for German courts (judges) and (higher) institutions of the police. FLET made up a central component of my work besides teaching General and Applied Linguistics at German universities. Nearly half a century of professional experience in any field of science provides an opportunity for systematic reflection of what one has been doing in the past, is doing in the present, and will be doing in the foreseeable future. In my view, a scientific field by its very nature deserves and needs (self)critical reflection about the dos and don’ts as well as a detailed descriptive analysis of the facts that matter in this science. The perspective chosen in this paper is a descriptive empirical and historical one. Wherever necessary and possible, some notes and comments on the ‘development’ of our field of an applied science will be made (or of data appearing to suggest such a ‘development’ to us). The overall descriptive focus of this paper is the diversity and heterogeneity of Forensic Linguistic (FL) data rather than the mere number of cases. Special emphasis will be given to the analysis of the communicative events with all their ingredients that take place when German judges order FLET. As far as I can see, this has never been analysed systematically by FL to date. In other words: If the antra learnt in every introductory class of law in a German university “Jeder Fall ist anders” (‘each case is different’) is valid, it therefore must have some veracity (and consequences?) for the auxiliary science FL.