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Forensic Phonetics – Scientific Solution for Legal Problem

‘Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud’. ~Hermann Hesse

Satisfying human curiosity has always remained an unfulfilled task, more so, in the case of sudden mysterious // deaths. In the course of solving practical and legal issues in such situations, the pursuit of forensic medicine has been a promising one.

The origin of forensic medicine, the science that deals with determining causes, manner and circumstances of death dates back to as early as 3000 BC, when King Zozer appointed a chief justice in charge of investigating suspicious deaths. Later in 44 BC, it was concluded by a physician that only one out of the 23 stab wounds received by Julius Caesar was fatal. It was these crude, barbaric physical examinations that sowed seeds for the so called forensic science. However, it was not until 13th century that the concept became widely accepted.

The opening of the Legal Medicine Department in 1807 in the University of Edinburgh and the invention of the microscope by Rudolf Virchow are some of the milestones worth mentioning in the development of forensic medicine. Mysteries underlying the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Oakland County murder have all been solved using forensic investigation.

The forensic experts are involved in rising voice for the voiceless to ensure that the victim’s voice is heard and reciprocated through a fair judgment. It is equally important to ensure that the veil of suspicion around an innocent person is dismissed through appropriate evidence. This is the universally acceptable approach to any legal situation.

The forensic team that largely contains medical and legal personnel has been receptive to include yet another participant, the phonetics expert. Forensic phonetics involves the exploitation of knowledge regarding the use of speech for legal purposes, and the extension of phonetic research to investigations relevant to legal situations.

If the above lines are too complicated for you to understand, may be try reading this. It would not be an exaggeration if it is said that all of us are phonetic experts to some degree. We are so attuned to the voices that we hear everyday that we are able to identify the speaker next to the room or the caller by just a simple hello over the telephone.

Speaker identification, language or accent identification, transcription and authentication services are some of the broad avenues where the modality can be of help. Phonetic analysis is however very time consuming, requires the painstaking preparation of speech samples and close observation of their acoustic and other characteristics followed by extensive statistical analysis.

When we have become so open-minded about accepting phonetic evidence as an acceptable form of evidence, caution must be laid on instances where it cannot be accepted such as psychological profiling; making statements about a speaker's personality or state of mind based on characteristics of their voice.

This information on Forensic Phonetics maybe especially interesting to read as recently in India there have been a few instances where this advance has been used. The most recent case is that of Salman Khan and Ashwarya Rai phone conversation that caused uproar in Media. The Chandigarh lab clearly pointed out that the voice samples were not of the actos.

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