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A Lie or Not a Lie, That Is the Question. Trying to Take Arms Against a Sea of Conceptual Troubles: Methodological and Theoretical Issues in Linguistic Approaches to Lie Detection

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In spite of the obvious relevance of linguistically given testimony in legal processes (Sect. 1), the state of veracity evaluation is widely felt to be unsatisfactory. Starting out from a discussion of the very concept of lying (Sect. 2), the paper discusses the range of popular psychological test procedures that include linguistic components and then focuses on methodological issues attendant on the use of individual linguistic diagnostic ʻcuesʼ to either truth or lies (Sect. 3). Finally, the paper zeroes in (Sect. 4) on discussing in some detail a sample case from witness interviews in cases of sexual assault, using the discussion to exemplify the notion of the genre in establishing baseline concepts and, more generally, the central relevance of an interactionist pragmatic approach in meaning-making in this type of very specific forensic context (Sect. 5).


  • Baseline
  • Cues
  • Forensic linguistics
  • Discourse
  • Genre
  • Lying
  • Particles
  • Pragmatics
  • Psychology
  • Witness interviews

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  1. 1.

    LIWC is the abbreviation for Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, a tool to be used for scientific purpose; also see Chap. 5.

  2. 2.

    See Fobbe (In press), for a linguistically based criticism of the somewhat naive application of the category ʻpronounʼ in deception detection.

  3. 3.

    See the sentence of the Bundesgerichtshof, BGH 30.7.1999 1 StR 618/98.

  4. 4.

    Fitzpatrick et al. (2015, p. 32) translate as: ʻStatement validity analysisʼ.

  5. 5.

    Vrij reports an average error rate of 30% in laboratory studies (Vrij, 2005, p. 32).

  6. 6.

    Steller and Köhnken (1989, p. 235) report that in 90 % of the by then known cases, the judge had followed the expert’s evaluation. The courts’ trust in the Content Criteria has recently been extensively criticised (Geipel, 2021, pp. 84–100).

  7. 7.

    Sporer et al. (2021, p. 25) conclude: ʻ[…] both the CBCA and RM can be applied to different domains, with some criteria showing larger validities in some domains than others.ʼ

  8. 8.

    Actually, the example consists of two sentences: ʻI went to Sainsbury, to the “free from” section where I found the chocolate bar. It was 50p, and I paid with a £1 coin.ʼ

  9. 9.

    The category of ‘particlesʼ, as it is understood here refers to interactive discourse management only, such as pointing the hearer to types of shared knowledge, similar to expressions of stance (cf. Chap. 5 in this volume). This is only one aspect of the uses of particles, which are a homonymous category with several types of non-propositional functions. Cf. for German the entry for ‘Abtönungspartikelʼ in Hentschel (2010). It should also be pointed out that the studies mentioned in Sect. 3 variously refer to types of expressions under the term ‘particlesʼ that are different from the class of expressions discussed here. For a comprehensive discussion of discourse markers cf. Heine et al. (2021) especially § 1.1, pp. 6–16 that explicitly discusses the metatextual functions and function as processing instructions for discourse.

  10. 10.

    „Die Verwendung von „halt“ (Schwäbisch im Sinne von „eben“) wird aus der Verwandtschaft zum negativen Merkmal Klischees …heraus als neues verbales Warnsignal abgeleitet. „Halt“ und „eben“können nach der Operationalisierung des Merkmals Klischees …als Signalwort für eben dieses verstanden werden (z.B.“..wie man das halt so macht,…“ oder „…wie so eine Unfallstelle eben aussieht. Chaotisch und…“) (Hettler, 2012, p. 66, also p. 189 for further examples).


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Nicklaus, M., Stein, D. (2022). A Lie or Not a Lie, That Is the Question. Trying to Take Arms Against a Sea of Conceptual Troubles: Methodological and Theoretical Issues in Linguistic Approaches to Lie Detection. In: Guillén-Nieto, V., Stein, D. (eds) Language as Evidence. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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