I am a professional linguist and communications consultant. I have been practicing forensic linguistics since 1979.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Brown University and a Master’s and Doctorate in linguistics from the University of Chicago. I taught linguistics and English for 12 years. I have also taught graduate seminars in stylistics and in the structure and process of written language.
My undergraduate and graduate studies included courses in the grammatical structure of English, a subject which I have studied intensively over the years and employed practically, as a writer.
My academic and professional experience qualifies me to render expert opinions in four areas: (i) authorship of anonymous, questioned, or forged documents; (ii) plagiarism; (3) copyright/trademark infringement; and (iv); interpretation of contracts and other binding documents whose meaning is ambiguous or indeterminate.
STATUS AS COURT-CERTIFIED LAY WITNESS: I am a court-certified lay witness under Rule 701 of the Federal Rules for Evidence. I have an unusual if not unique combination of academic credentials (AB in linguistics, Brown University; MA and PhD in linguistics, University of Chicago) and real-world experience in the effective use of language, as a speech/ghostwriter and professional writer and editor.
After 13 years of academic research, teaching, and publishing, I used my linguistics training to become, in just four years, one of the country’s leading corporate speechwriters, writing for the CEO and other executives of Burroughs Corporation, General Motors, Philip Morris and Kraft Foods, partly because of my ability to use style analysis to write in the voice of each individual speaker. I ghost-wrote or edited many other works and published four books of my own.
While writing speeches and doing forensic work, I developed original knowledge and shared my expertise in various venues. My sociolinguistic and pragmatic analysis of buzzwords was published in The Journal of Employee Communication Management and excerpted by The Harvard Business Review.
In 1997 I published my first book on speechwriting, Writing Great Speeches: Professional Techniques You Can Use (Allyn & Bacon). The book, part of the publisher’s “Essence of Public Speaking” series, applies principles of stylistic, syntactic, and content analysis to create a linguistics-based, step-by-step process for composing, editing, and presenting a successful speech. The section on ceremonial speeches is completely original and was the first account of its kind. One reviewer wrote that “[the] chapter on ceremonial speeches is worth the price of the book.”
In 2006, my second book, Perfect Phrases for Executive Presentations (McGraw-Hill), included original advice, developed from linguistic principles plus real-world experience, on what to say in dozens of kinds of speeches. The book also tells readers how to speak to employees, avoid gender issues, address audiences who are non-native speakers of English, and vary writing/speaking style to suit the occasion, audience, and context. I also provide a chapter on “the most persuasive words in the language.”
I have published numerous articles in professional publications and given many talks on effective communication.
For decades, I have studied language variation and style, in many roles and contexts, and I have composed, edited, analyzed, and taught others to compose thousands of documents of every kind. I have applied linguistic concepts to the understanding of a wide range of written and spoken data and even to jazz improvisation ("Miles Davis Meets Noam Chomsky: Some Observations on Jazz Improvisation and Language Structure"; the article now generates over 70,000 Google hits) .
My reports, written in clear, non-technical language, have been used in litigation in more than 20 jurisdictions, and I have provided expert advice to many private clients. My CV is available on my website, www.language-expert.net.
Specific information on my areas of expertise:
Forensic linguistics encompasses a wide variety of disciplines. I specialize in four of them, deriving from my academic background and real-world experience as a writer and editor.
(1) Interpretation of contracts, wills, laws, and other binding documents: expert judgment on clarity, meaning, comprehensibility and (un)ambiguity.
What was intended to be said -- and what, if anything, does the document actually say? Is it ambiguous, and, if so, what are the possible interpretations, given the semantics, syntax, and pragmatics (roughly, the intent and purpose) of the text(s) in question?
Prenups and other contracts designed to be air-tight are exactly where writing problems occur, as people try to execute complex ideas and cover all contingencies.
I analyze specific words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and other units, including the entire document, to offer informed judgments on clarity, comprehensibility, and (un)ambiguity.
Case example: A man suffered damages from defective rental equipment; he did not know that he had released the company from liability by signing a contract that was, when quantitatively compared with everyday writing (e.g., USA Today), too complex to understand.
Category ambiguity: Some of my cases involved the well-known "attachment ambiguity," e.g., They fired the VP in New York. Was NY where the firing took place? Or was it the local VP who was fired?
(2) Plagiarism: expert opinion on likelihood of plagiarism.
In the Internet age, plagiarism – deliberate, dishonest appropriation of another’s words and/or ideas -- has been redefined.
Problems occur when the traditional definitions are applied: similarity of text, which is what plagiarism tools find, is not a basis for a charge of plagiarism. It is not unique but prosaic information that is most likely copied, thus undermining the traditional charge of plagiarism. Much more is in the public domain than ever before.
Case examples: I have defended many academic writers, from college students to law professors, against groundless charges of plagiarism, which are often based on (i) similarity of items in the public domain (since there are relatively few ways of saying certain things in scientific, technical, and legal writing) or (ii) misunderstanding or misapplication of the institution’s own quotation/paraphrase rules.
In literary plagiarism allegations, one writer accuses another of stealing his/her ideas. But these usually turn out to be widespread, occurring in typical books of this genre. Courts have ruled that elements of theme and setting are not protectable.
(3) Copyright/trademark infringement: I offer informed judgment on the genericity, specificity, and protectability of individual words, phrases, and brand names; assessment of linguistic similarity to evaluate infringement claims.
The process typically involves dictionary search. The question is: to what extent is the item already part of the language (unless it's a "fanciful" term like XEROX or XANAX, the most easily protectable)?
If it is already a lexical unit, it can still be trademarked, even if it's suggestive (DAWN, JOY) or descriptive (SimpleGreen). But you cannot market a name that already stands for a whole category of items, e.g., Pants.
However, there is also a large class of generic trademarks: terms, items, or symbols already in the public domain but which marketers attempt to use as brands, e.g., DELTA (airlines, faucets, dental care). This class includes ACME, APEX, A-1, UNIVERSAL...the list is almost endless, because it includes place-names (MONADNOCK APPLIANCE CENTER).
Even idiomatic terms can become frozen into generic brand names. ACCIDENT AND INJURY is the brand name associated with a variety of services, and the idiomatic meaning is carried over every time: it's never "accidents AND injuries" ( = 'we offer a separate service for each') but "services related to injuries resulting from accidents."
NOTE: Linguistically, the legal categories do not admit of sharp divisions.
-- A descriptive mark is suggestive because it is derived from product properties by various processes, including figurative speech, e.g., EVERREADY selects a salient property, durability, and applies hyperbole (it does run out eventually).
-- A suggestive mark is descriptive in the sense that it borrows some property or the product/service that's being branded, even if only metaphorically (TIDE).
-- Even fanciful marks can be descriptive/suggestive by using sounds and word-parts creatively. While many are nonsensical (XELJANZ uses a lot of odd letters, so it must be potent), others others are memorable because they convey brand promise and value. VIAGRA is so effective because it reminds one immediately of a romantic place, while the V has many positive connotations around "virility."
I also consider cases in which one company's mark may be too similar to another's, causing confusion to consumers or clients.
Case example: I demonstrated that another marketer’s brand name was, on several linguistic levels, similar to that of the attorney’s client.
(4) Authorship: I conduct analysis of a language sample -- the grammar, lexicon, and other features -- to offer an expert opinion on the likelihood of particular suspected writers, single-author/forged texts, and other legal/linguistic hypotheses, via a method verified in thousands of academic studies and real-world cases.
Here's where my vast experience in text analysis is relevant. Everybody has a writing style -- some more obvious than others -- and I can usually make an authorship call with some (or a lot of) certainty based on feature occurrence and pattern similarities. If the writer is a foreign language speaker, his/her style will be even more obvious.
Case example: anonymous letters of complaint to a company’s Board; forged letters (by a single author) in employment dispute.
Case example: An ex-husband’s new wife was writing emails over his signature. Dr. Perlman was asked to identify the elements of her style and help resolve the disputed authorship.
Other examples from the above four case categories:
-- Expert opinion on status of compound words (trademark infringement litigation).
-- Expert opinion on plagiarism of song lyrics (copyright litigation involving musical group The Who).
-- Authorship analysis of e-mails in Florida internal union dispute.
-- Preliminary analysis of authorship issues in malpractice litigation.
-- Expert opinion on authorship issues in business partnership dispute involving anonymous writings.
-- Authorship analysis of anonymous letters of complaint to a corporation’s Board of Directors.
-- Expert opinion on the semantics of trademark infringement in litigation by an apparel firm.
-- Authorship analysis of anonymous letters (possibly written by disgruntled employees) for major Midwestern corporation.
-- Authorship analysis of emails to website of a “cult deprogrammer.”
-- Expert opinion on linguistic similarities between plaintiff’s and defendant’s trademarks.
-- Authorship analysis of defamatory emails written to an individual in a corporation.
-- Authorship advice on a possibly forged stock transfer document.
-- Authorship analysis of letters involved in the Son of Sam case.
-- Analysis to support allegations of plagiarism of online course material.
-- Interpretation of contract language regarding the disposition of acquired corporate entities.
-- Defense against charges of academic and student plagiarism (several cases).
-- Analysis of chat transcripts to determine whether defendant engaged in enticement or seduction.
-- Authorship analysis of emails in divorce and custody disputes (several cases).
-- Expert opinion on whether The DaVinci Code was plagiarized from the client’s writing (it was, partly).
- Language & Linguistics
- Q: Please list your professional accreditations, degrees, licenses, and certificates granted:
- A: BA, MA, PhD -- linguistics
- Q: Please list any teaching or speaking experience you have had, including subject matter:
- A: (1) Teaching: English linguistics at college/university level (13 years).
1965-79: Assistant Professor of English (most recent position: Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 1974-79); taught English linguistics and composition at the college/university level; published scholarly articles; organized a composition program and helped establish a graduate program in the theory and structure of writing.
ACADEMIC COURSES TAUGHT: (partial list) History of the English Language; Language and Dialect; Introduction to English Dialects; the Structure of Modern English; English Stylistics; Structure and Process of Written Language; English Composition; Introduction to Linguistics; Phonetics and Phonology..
(2) PROFESSIONAL SEMINARS, WORKSHOPS, LECTURES, AND CLASSES DEVELOPED AND PRESENTED
Business Communications: Theory and Practice (Wayne State University, Detroit MI; Oakland University, Rochester MI); 1979-80.
"Speechwriting in the Corporate Context," Public Relations Update, Detroit MI, 1982.
Fundamentals of Public Speaking; Executive Communications: Speech and Writing (D'Etre University, Grosse Pointe MI); 1982-83.
Business Writing (Burroughs Corp. After-Hours Education Program); 1981- 83.
"Jobs Without Experience, Experience Without Jobs: Breaking the Vicious Cycle," Communications '83 (careers conference).
"Sounds in Space -- A Seminar in Effective Oral Presentation," Detroit Chapter, International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), November, 1983.
"Preparing Humanities Students for Business Careers: What Liberal-Arts Faculty Can Do" (Keynote Address, to faculty); "Business Careers for Liberal-Arts Graduates: Improving Your Chances (speech to students), Liberal Arts Careers Seminar, Bowling Green State University, April, 1985.
"Writing for the Tongue," IABC District 7 Conference, November, 1985.
“Employment Opportunities Outside the Classroom," Michigan College English Association, Annual Meeting, October, 1985.
"Speeches That Sing, Speeches That Sell: Insights into the Craft," National Association for Corporate Speaker Activities (NACSA), April, 1987.
"Tips on Effective Speechwriting," IABC/Detroit, March, 1989.
"The Instant Expert: Mastering the Technical Speech," NACSA, September, 1989.
"Words, Words, Words: Some Basic Truths About Symbols and Things," Keynote Address, Toastmasters International, November, 1989.
"Writing for the Big Guns," Detroit Producers Association, May, 1990.
"Power on the Podium: Coaching the Executive Speaker," Metro Detroit Speechwriters' Forum, June, 1990.
"Those Troublesome Ceremonial Speeches: the Toast, the Dedication, the Introduction, and the Acceptance," Third, Fourth, Fifth Annual Speechwriters Conferences, November, 1990, 1991, 1992.
"How to Write a Speech," Ragan Communication Seminars (various cities), April-June, 1991.
"The Speech as an Instrument of Policy," Keynote Panel, Fourth Annual Speechwriters Conference, November, 1991.
"Soft Words for Hard Times: The Function of Euphemism in Corporate Communication," Panel Remarks, Corporate Communicators' Conference, May, 1992.
"The Year's Ten Worst Speeches -- And What We Can Learn from Them," Fifth Annual Speechwriters Conference, November, 1992.
"Style: You've Either Got It or You Don't -- and How to Get It," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, October, 1993.
"Speechwriters of the World, You're Needed!", Sixth Annual Speechwriters Conference, November, 1993.
(with Jerry Tarver) "How to Write Speeches that Motivate," Sixth Annual Speechwriters Conference, November, 1993.
"To P.C. or Not P.C.," Public Relations Society of America, Greater O'Hare Chapter, February, 1994.
"In Pursuit of the Optimal Interview," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, Nov. 1, 1994.
"The Power and the Gory: Words Do Mean Something -- Don't They?", Chicago Speechwriters Forum, June, 1995.
"Some Components of 'Cogent' and 'Memorable,'" Chicago Speechwriters Forum, January, 1996.
"On Libertarian Rhetoric," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, October, 1996.
"Creativity on Cue," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, July 7, 1998. "Acquiring Quick Credibility," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, October 6, 1998.
"Language Variation and Change: A Speechwriter's Primer," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, March 3, 1999.
"And Bingo Was Its Name-Oh: Buzzword Bingo and its Implications for Speechwriters," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, August 3, 1999.
"Writing Great Speeches," Toastmasters International Conference, Chicago, IL, August 19, 1999.
"The Visible Ghost: Speechwriting in the Corporate Context," Department of Communication Studies, West Chester University, West Chester, PA, October, 25, 1999.
"Reflect Your Speaker's Personality in Your Speeches," Ragan Communications Speechwriting Conference, Washington, DC, Feb. 9, 2000.
"Writing Great Speeches," Diplomatic Toastmasters #4378, District 30, 10th Anniversary Celebration, Evanston, IL, March 19, 2001.
"World English: How to Communicate with an International Audience," International Association of Business Communicators, International Conference, Chicago, IL, June 11, 2002.
"The Language of Music and the Music of Language," Chicago Speechwriters Forum, September 9, 2003.
"When a Lawyer Needs a Linguist,” Association of Forensic Document Examiners, Milwaukee, WI, Nov. 8, 2009.
- Q: On how many occasions have you been retained as an expert?
- A: Approx. 150
- Q: For what area(s) of expertise have you been retained as an expert?
- A: Identification of author of anonymous/questioned documents; analysis of meaning to determine copyright infringement; analysis of lexical status to determine genericity or protectability in trademark infringement; analysis of style and content to determine likelihood of plagiarism or forgery; interpretation of syntax and semantics of purportedly obscure or ambiguous passages in contracts, by-laws, prenups, and other binding documents (for more examples, see CV).
- Q: In what percentage of your cases were you retained by the plaintiff?
- A: approx. 50%
- Q: In what percentage of your cases were you retained by the defendant?
- A: approx. 50%
- Q: On how many occasions have you had your deposition taken?
- A: 5
- Q: When was the last time you had your deposition taken?
- A: October 2017
- Q: On how many occasions have you been qualified by a court to give expert testimony?
- A: one
- Q: On how many occasions have you testified as an expert in court or before an arbitrator?
- A: 1
- Q: For how many years have you worked with the legal industry as an expert?
- A: 30
- Q: What services do you offer? (E.g.: consulting, testing, reports, site inspections etc.)
- A: Consulting, document analysis, research, report writing, deposition, testimony
- Q: What is your hourly rate to consult with an attorney?
- A: 375
- Q: What is your hourly rate to review documents?
- A: 375
- Q: What is your hourly rate to provide deposition testimony?
- A: 475.
- Q: What is your hourly rate to provide testimony at trial?
- A: 475
- Q: Please list any fees other than those stated above (E.g.: travel expenses, copy fees, etc.)
- A: Ancillary expenses, e.g., access to database or supporting documents, if required.
- When a lawyer needs a linguist
- Plagiarism -- what it is and is not
- Stylistic Analysis - a definition
- The most persuasive words in the language
- Malicious Obfuscation
- The forensic linguist and the Artful Dodger: can people disguise their writing style?
- "You have the right to remain silent": On understanding the Miranda Warning (it's not so easy)
References upon request.