Tuesday, June 21, 2011

[FIND] Lexicon - Discourse Analysis

"In the end, discourse analysis is one way to engage in a very important human task. The task is this: to think more deeply about the meanings we give people's words so as to make ourselves better, more humane people and the world a better, more humane place."
- J. P. Gee 

Don Rabon, former Deputy Director of the North Carolina Department of Justice, recently gave a lecture at the ACFE 22nd Annual Fraud Conference. Mr. Rabon is quite possibly a genius. After listening intently for 80 minutes about interview techniques, tied logically to historical literature (Interviewing From Head to Poe), I found myself lost in words; the dissection of words, the parsing of sentences, and the importance of listening and recording (documenting).

I left the class and near sprinted to the ACFE Bookstore, set up in the voluminous exhibit hall, and picked up my first Don Rabon book, Investigative Discourse Analysis. I read the book on the way home on a long flight from San Diego back to Nashville. It's a language nerd's dream.

Upon arriving back at my office the following day, I tried a small experiment. Several months ago a long time client asked me to look into a couple of emails he had received. They weren't necessarily threatening, but they were - just mean. We tried to identify the sender and have a strong idea who the passive-aggressive-cyber-punk was. We could not, however, tie them specifically to the emails. They used a gmail account, more on that at a later date, which when used properly is a fantastic way to mask one's identity.

We did have one email from the suspected ill-meaning-emailer denying all knowledge of the affair. Well, I put that denial email, the statement, under serious scrutiny using Mr. Rabon's book as a guide.

Structure - The email, the suspect's statement, showed structural imbalance, indicating that it was deceptive on its form. The anonymous-jackass-email-fiend told her account of the incident. The prologue made up roughly 10% of the narrative. The actual event (the sending of the email) took up 30%. The remaining 60% of the text was dedicated to the epilogue and a string of negations and denials. Structurally, this narrative is seriously indicative of deception, but it was the analysis of specific words that caught my attention.

Word Choice - The disgruntled-email-bully used the pronoun I, exclusively, throughout the first part of the email. She switched to a near exclusive use of the pronoun Me in the last part of the narrative. Indicating that she had somehow a passive role, almost a victim.

Sentence Length - When the narrative turned to the actual event, her Mean Length of Utterance (MLU) dropped from a Mean of 13.3 to truncated sentences of 5 to 7 words or less. Further indication of deception.

Other issues - The denial email, which again equated to a statement, had several other issues. The most interesting point I noted in the email was the bookending of the statement, first sentence and last sentence, with abjuration (I don't mean to upset you, but...).

I would not feel comfortable approaching a court, a lawyer, or a jury with my brief analysis. I do not possess the skill and training to apply this type of analysis in detail or for court testimony. I do, however, feel comfortable that we now know, based an analysis of the denial email, who wrote the original string of nasty notes.

This, for me, falls into the category of simply cool. If you get the chance, click over to Amazon or the ACFE bookstore and pick up a copy of Don Rabon's book, Investigative Discourse Analysis.

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