The critical role of voice evidence in court

Acoustic phonetic analysis in Praat
Acoustic phonetic analysis in Praat

Forensic speech science plays a critical role in criminal cases involving voice evidence. Forensic speaker comparison is the most common task carried out by experts and involves the comparison of a criminal recording, for example, a threatening phone call such as a bomb threat, and a known suspect sample such as a police interview. It is the role of an expert forensic speech scientist to advise the judge or jury on the probability of the evidence given competing hypotheses from the prosecution and defence.

The WYRED (West Yorkshire Regional English Database) project

West Yorkshire map
West Yorkshire map

Currently there is a lack of population data for forensic speech science casework and Dr Erica Gold and her team are building a more in-depth picture of the West Yorkshire accent.

They are working on a £360,000 forensic speech science project – The WYRED (West Yorkshire Regional English Database) – which is funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council).

Developing a unique resource

Human vocal tract
Human vocal tract

The research involves developing the largest Northern British English database, looking specifically at Bradford, Wakefield and Kirklees in West Yorkshire. The team will be collecting 60 male speakers from each region, a total of 180 males, over the next few years, exploring some of the characteristics of the West Yorkshire accent and trying to establish common and uncommon features in the area. This research will help in forensic cases by identifying how typical a feature is in a population. The research also looks at how narrowly accents need to be defined in the West Yorkshire area for forensic purposes.

The population data can be used for a multitude of purposes, but the main concern is to create a database so that forensic experts in the UK (and world-wide) can reference their data in court cases, in order to provide judgements on the typicality of accent features.

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