Dr Alison  Johnson

Dr Alison Johnson

Lecturer in English Language

+44 (0)113 343 8099

Summary: Corpus-based forensic linguistics; authorship; discourse and conversational analysis of institutional interaction; narrative evaluation; police interviews and trial discourse; plagiarism; pragmatics



Dr Alison Johnson's research is in corpus-based forensic linguistics, language in legal settings. Her work draws on and informs pragmatic, discourse, interactional sociolinguistic, and corpus linguistic theory. She is an active member of the International Association of Forensic Linguists (IAFL), the International Pragmatic Association (IPrA), and the International Society for Conversation Analysis, and has presented papers regularly at conferences organised by these associations. Her research interests include the sister areas of authorship studies and plagiarism. Her authorship work includes work on the Enron corpus (which contains around 176 employees and 2.5 million words of email). She is also working on historical forensic linguistic research, using the Old Bailey Proceedings 1674-1913, a corpus of nearly 200,000 criminal trials. Recent conference papers and forthcoming articles focus on a sub-corpus of 250 Old Bailey rape trials in the 18th century and the role of medical experts and defence barristers in 19th century trials involving an insanity defence. Formerly a police officer for six years, Dr Johnson's doctoral research explored the use of questions in police interviews with both adults and children and she continues this research in published articles on narrative evaluation in the police interview, the use of quotation in interviewing and trial discourse, and impoliteness in trial discourse. She is co-author of An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence, 2nd Edition(2016) (with Malcolm Coulthard and David Wright) and co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics (2010) (with Malcolm Coulthard).

Research Student Supervision

Dr Johnson currently supervises the following doctoral and MA by research students:

Al Saeed, Neveen. Power and Resistance in Interrogations of Suspects in the Egyptian Judicial Process.

Sani, Nurshafawati Ahmad. Questioning and Answering Strategies in Malaysian Criminal Proceedings: A Corpus-Based Forensic Discourse Analysis.

The following are former PhD students who have completed their research and graduated are who are now working all over the world:

Abdullah, Ashraf. An Ethnographic Sociolinguistic Study of Arab and Anglo-American Virtual Identity in Second Life.

Alian, Najat. The Representation of the Arab Spring Narrative in English and Arabic News Media.
Laporte, Camille. Expressing Political Leadership in the UK, US, and France.
Nickel, Sandra. The (Re)Construction and Reflection of Religious and Socio-Political Reality through Linguistic Power in 19th Century Yoruba Mission Texts.
Sarfo, Emmanuel. Speech Acts in Ghanaian Parliamentary Discourse.
Satia, Emmanuel. Professional and Lay Interactants’ Use of Language to Construct and Negotiate Identities in Legal Contexts. (with Professor Kembo, Moi University, Kenya).
Wright, David. Corpus Approaches to Authorship Analysis.

Murdoch, Millicent. A Forensic Linguistic Authorship Study into the Intra-author Variation across a Range of Different Electronic Communication Types (MA by Research).

She is happy to supervise research students (MA by Research and PhD) in the School of English (and in collaboration with other Schools) in areas closely concerned with her primary research interests in Forensic Linguistics: authorship, contemporary and historical courtroom discourse, and police interviewing.

Recent activities

Dr Johnson has provided expert reports to the courts, solicitors, and the police in legal cases and takes on a small amount of consultation work as a language expert (particularly on authorship, plagiarism, and the pragmatic effects of questioning). She has co-written and co-edited the following books:

2016. An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence. 2nd Edition (London: Routledge) [co-authored with Malcolm Coulthard and David Wright].

2010. The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics (London: Routledge) [co-edited with Malcolm Coulthard].

2007. An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence (London: Routledge) [co-authored with Malcolm Coulthard].


Forensic Approaches to Language

Trial Discourse – The Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674-1913

Analysing English

Power of Language

English Language Dissertation 

Selected Publications

(forthcoming) '"Are you saying you were stabbed…?" Multimodality, embodied action, and dramatised formulations in police interviews with suspects'. In: M. Mason and F. Rock (eds.) The Discourse of Police Investigation. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

(forthcoming) '"How came you not to cry out?" Pragmatic effects of negative questioning in child rape trials in the Old Bailey Proceedings 1730-1798'. In: D. Kurzon and B. Kryk-Kastovsky (eds.) Legal Pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

2015. 'Haunting Evidence: Quoting the Prisoner in 19th Century Old Bailey Trial Discourse. The Defences of Cooper (1842) and McNaughten (1843)'. In: J. Arendholz, W. Bublitz, M. Kirner-Ludwig (eds.) The Pragmatics of Quoting Now and Then, Topics in English Linguistics, 89, De Gruyter Mouton, 369-400. 

2014. 'Identifying idiolect in forensic authorship attribution: an n-gram textbite approach'. Language and Law / Linguagem e Direito, 1 (1), 37-69. 

2014. '"Dr Shipman told you that ..." The organising and synthesising power of quotation in judicial summing-up'. Language and Communication, 36. Special issue on Quoting the Case File, edited by S. D'Hondt and F. van der Houwen, 53-67. 

2013. 'Embedding police interviews in the prosecution case in the Shipman trial' in C. Heffer, F. Rock and J. Conley (eds). Legal-Lay Communication: Textual Travels in the Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 147-167.

2011. Polite incivility in defensive attack: strategic politeness and impoliteness in cross-examination in the David Irving vs. Penguin Books Ltd. and Deborah Lipstadt trial' [with R. Clifford] Journal of Politeness Research,7, Special Issue: Im/politeness and facework across legal contexts, D. Archer and J. Luchjenbroers (eds), 43-71.

2010. Legal Talk. The sociopragmatics of legal talk: police interviews and trial discourse (with E. Holt). In M. Coulthard and A. Johnson (eds). The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics. London: Routledge, 21-36.

2010. Plagiarism. Four forensic linguists' responses to suspected plagiarism (with M. Coulthard, K. Kredens and D. Woolls). In M. Coulthard and A. Johnson (eds). The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics. London: Routledge, 523-538.

2009. Who wrote this? The linguist as detective (with D. Woolls). In S. Hunston and D. Oakey (eds). Doing Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge, 111-118.

2008. Changing Stories. Achieving a change of state in suspect and witness knowledge through evaluation in police interviews with suspects and witnesses. Functions of Language 15 (1), Special Issue: Evaluation of Text Types, 84-114.

2008. "From where we're sat...": Negotiating narrative transformation through interaction in police interviews with suspects. Text and Talk 28(3), Special Issue: Narratives in Context, 327-349.

Selected Conference Papers and Lectures

2013. Rape, madness, and quoted speech in specialized 18th and 19th century Old Bailey trial corpora. Corpus Linguistics Conference, Lancaster, UK, 23-26 July 2013.

2013. Rape, murder, blackmail. All in a day’s work. Lecture given at the University of Bonn, Germany. June 24 2013.

2012. Say, saying, said... Processes of making evidence in the courtroom in specialised legal corpora. 3rd European Conference of the IAFL on the theme of Bridging the Gap between Language and the Law, Porto, Portugal, 15-18 October 2012.

2012. Function words, word clouds and contexts: Getting computers to read big data. BAAL Cambridge University Press Seminar Series. Discourse and Technology: Tools, Methods and Applications.17-18 May 2012.

2012 . “I said ...; s/he said ...” The representation of madness in quoted speech in the Monomania Corpus. 3rd International Conference on Quotation and Meaning (ICQM), University of Augsburg, Germany. 19-21 April 2012.

2012. Applying linguistics in professional settings. 1st Inter-university PhD Seminar on Authorship in Forensic Linguistics (University of Leeds and IULA at Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Barcelona, Spain, 29 March 2012.

2011. "Dr. Shipman told you that..." Judicial quotation in summing-up the Harold Shipman trial. IPrA Conference, Manchester. 3-8th July 2011.

2011. Winning words: A Lexical Anatomy of the 2010 British Election Debates (with D. Woolls, D. Wright and J. Saatchi). IPrA Conference, Manchester. 3-8th July 2011.

2011. Applying Linguistics in Legal Settings. 1st Interdisciplinary Conference in Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice (ALAPP), Cardiff, 23-24 June 2011.

2011. Corporate voices? Tools and methods for author analysis in the Enron business email corpus (with D. Woolls and D. Wright). 1st Interdisciplinary Conference in Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice (ALAPP), Cardiff, 23-24 June 2011.

2011. Representing Rape in the Old Bailey Proceedings: 1700-1799. Collaborative Research on the 1641 Depositions: Process and Impact, Dissemination Conference for the AHRC-funded Language and Linguistic Evidence in the 1641 Depositions' project, University of Aberdeen, 18-19 February 2011.

2010. 'Is that what you're saying? Fixing the facts in police interviews with witnesses and suspects. ICCA Conference, Mannheim, Germany, 4-10 July 2010.

2009. The undergraduate classroom in focus: Learning to research forensic linguistics. Panel including student papers by Clifford, Gomez, Oldroyd, Tierney. 9th Biennial Conference of the International Association of Forensic Linguists, Amsterdam, Holland, 3-9 July 2009.

2008. From interview to courtroom: the evidential narrative as courtroom object. GURT (Georgetown University Roundtable in Linguistics) Focus on Narrative, 14-16th March 2008.

2008. Deixis in legal-lay interaction: Embedding police interviews in the prosecution case in the Shipman trial. 6th Cardiff Roundtable in Language and Communication: Legal-Lay Communication, Gregynog, Wales, 23-25 July 2008.