Forensic Linguistics

The potential of language for Law Enforcement in the Digital Age

  • Rui Sousa-Silva University of Porto - Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Keywords: Cybercrime, threatening language, darkweb, anonymity, investigative linguistics


The recent technological developments have granted citizens worldwide access to the Internet, including in handheld devices, and offered them new communication possibilities. Nevertheless, it has also exposed them to more cybernetic attacks, as criminals gained new opportunities for cybercriminal practice. The (perceived) increase in the number of cyberattacks faces Law Enforcement with two major challenges: firstly, the higher the volume of cyberattacks, the harder it is to dedicate the necessary resources, including human, to fight them; secondly, the range of sophisticated stealth technologies used by cybercriminals to remain anonymous online hamper the work of the forces. This paper argues that, since (cyber)criminals use language to communicate, their anonymisation can be undermined by the language that they use because language use is idiosyncratic, so each speaker of language makes a particular use of their language (Coulthard, 2004). This is enabled by Forensic Linguistics, which can be broadly defined as the application of linguistic analyses in legal or Law Enforcement contexts. This article presents two illustrative cases of cybercrime to show the potential of the forensic linguistic analysis. The first is the case of an anonymous set of text messages spreading defamatory contents, whose linguistic analysis enabled the sociolinguistic profiling of the author, and hence narrow down the pool of suspects. The second presents a cross border cybercriminal practice: fraudulent and deceptive messages sent to citizens for purposes of extortion. The article concludes by discussing the potential of the linguistic analyses in the fight against (cyber)crime, and making recommendations for Law Enforcement.

How to Cite
Sousa-Silva, R. (2022). Forensic Linguistics. European Law Enforcement Research Bulletin, (6), 223-232. Retrieved from
Conference Contribution