How do we go about determining who authored an anonymous text? Can we understand and identify dark web criminals from their language use? How do we understand and reduce online hate and abuse? How do we keep up with ever-changing slang terms for illegal drugs? How can we improve the reliability of police interview evidence in court?

Studying MA Forensic Linguistics with us here at the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics (AIFL) will give you unparalleled access to genuine forensic data and expertise. Members of the Institute – the largest team of forensic linguists anywhere in the world - frequently undertake forensic linguistic casework and often appear as expert witnesses in court. Cases have related to murder, blackmail, rape, child abuse and terrorism, for clients including the National Crime Agency, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

As well as working on policing investigations with the Metropolitan Police, Police Scotland and numerous other forces, our experts have also worked with criminal defence teams and on significant civil disputes, including the biggest arbitration case in history, which found against the Russian government for $50billion.

Evidence definition dictionary


Dr Nicci MacLeod

In 2016 Dr Nicci MacLeod, programme director for Aston University's MA in Forensic Linguistics, testified at Bristol Crown Court in the trial of the murderers of 21-year-old Dolton Powell.

Suspecting that the men being held for Dolton’s murder might communicate about the case while being transported to court hearings, the police installed a covert recording device in the van. The men were captured talking in what the police described as ‘code’.

On closer listening, Dr MacLeod identified that the suspects were conversing with a language game known as ‘Egg Latin’, which involves the insertion of the syllable ‘eyg’ into the stressed portion of certain words. So when they said of one of the killers ‘he had his steygab preygoof eygon’, this translated as ‘he had his stab-proof on’. Clearly the wearing of a stab-proof vest indicates that a violent attack was expected, if not planned. There was a wealth of other evidence in the case, and one man was convicted of Dolton’s murder.


Professor Tim Grant, director of AIFL, was approached in 2018 after a pipe bomb was discovered in Edinburgh’s Princess Street Gardens.

The bomber was linked to a series of anonymous online posts written principally in English and Spanish, and a claim for responsibility for planting the device was discovered on a Mexican website supportive of anarchist and eco-terrorist actions.

Professor Grant was initially asked to provide a sociolinguistic profile of the writings to determine the language background of the writer, in terms of the other languages which were influencing the English in the blog posts. In 2020, he was asked to carry out a series of authorship analyses between known writings of the then suspect Nikolaos Karvounakis, and the anonymous blog posts. These analyses contributed to search warrants and the arrest of Karvounakis.

Professor Tim Grant


Forensic Linguistics room

Our casework feeds directly into the teaching that you will receive on the MA Forensic Linguistics programme, giving you truly unparalleled experience of working on genuine cases with genuine forensic linguists.

Outside of your timetabled modules we even run optional casework groups where students can gain hands on experience of undertaking linguistic analysis and producing an expert report for an external client. Our students this year are looking at a case involving authorship analysis of a cigarette case inscription alleged by its owner to be the work of T. E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’). Last year students investigated fresh allegations about the authorship of the infamous Zodiac Killer writings of the late 1960s.

Join us at Aston University and the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics to learn all about the ways in which language analysis can help with the delivery of justice!


Written by Dr Nicci MacLeod