Professor Robert A. Leonard, Ph.D (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Professor of Linguistics, Director of the Graduate Program in Forensic Linguistics, and Director of the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
A Fulbright Fellow for his Ph.D. research, he received his B.A. from Columbia College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia Graduate School, where he was a Faculty Fellow.
Leonard has been qualified as a Forensic Expert Witness in Linguistics and Language in a number of state and Federal courts. As a forensic linguist, Leonard has provided expert opinions to clients that include Apple, Inc., the Prime Minister of Canada, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, and the U.S. Department of Justice, in cases dealing with a wide range of forensic linguistic issues.
The FBI has employed him to work on specific cases, train their agents, and analyze and advise on their Communicated Threat Assessment Database (CTAD), a "computerized database/software program designed to be the primary repository for all communicated threats and other criminally oriented communications" within the FBI and the United States. The purpose of this corpus is to assist Behavioral Analysis Unit-1 (Counterterrorism and Threat Assessment) agents in the assessment and analysis of all submitted communications (Forensic Linguistic Services at the Behavioral Analysis Unit-1, p.16).
Leonard has trained British law enforcement agencies, analyzed murder-related letters for the Pennsylvania State Police; consulted on domestic terrorism cases for law enforcement agencies in California; analyzed testimony that resulted in perjury indictments for the District Attorney in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania; linguistically traced threatening letters for the Baltimore Police; linguistically traced bomb-threat voice calls to the Nassau County, New York courthouse; and consulted on scores of other criminal cases at the request of law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, as well as on scores of civil cases for major law firms for clients including Apple, Inc.
Leonard has been retained by both defendants and prosecutors to consult and/or testify in criminal cases involving murder, espionage, and other felonies, and he has consulted and/or testified for both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases involving trademarks, plagiarism, libel, malpractice, and the meaning of contracts.
Leonard has authored and co-authored both technical and popular articles in the field of linguistics and has lectured worldwide on linguistics—on theoretical advances in linguistic theory and the application of the science of linguistics to investigative law enforcement and counter-terrorism techniques.
Leonard's linguistic specialty of Forensic Linguistics applies the science of linguistic investigation to issues of the law. Forensic Linguistics augments legal analysis by applying rigorous, scientifically accepted principles of analysis to legal evidence like contracts, confessions, ransom notes, threat letters, and undercover recordings.
In the U.S. legal system, language is key. Through language we promulgate laws, issue subpoenas and warrants, question suspects, give testimony, write contracts, confess, claim, and deny. Attorneys use language to write briefs, make opening and closing arguments, question and cross-examine witnesses; judges issue orders, write decisions, and charge juries. As biology and physics play crucial roles in the interpretation of forensic medical and ballistic data, linguistics enables a deeper understanding of forensic language phenomena.
Linguistics is the scientific study of language and is recognized as such by the American Academy of Sciences. Linguists regularly apply for and are granted research funds by the National Science Foundation. In virtually any major university or college, a student can major in linguistics and many major universities grant a Ph.D. degree in linguistics. There are academic associations and scores, if not hundreds, of peer-reviewed professional journals within the field of linguistics. Similarly, sociolinguistics is an established branch of linguistics with peer-reviewed professional journals.
Linguistics is a well-known science. However, there is confusion over the term linguist. The English language has two main meanings of the word linguist: one, a speaker adept at a foreign language, and two, a scientist who studies human language as a set of natural phenomena. Academic, scientific linguists belong to the second group (although many are also adept at foreign languages).
As in all other sciences, linguistics solves problems by constructing competing hypotheses and then testing which hypothesis better explains the non-random distribution of the data. For example, Galileo noticed that while the hypothesis that the Sun revolves around the Earth explained much of the data (it certainly looks like it does)—the competing hypothesis, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, explained more of the non-random distribution of the data (for example, the observed, non-random orbits of the planets) and was therefore the superior hypothesis.
Linguists—as all scientists—seek to explain the non-random distribution of data. Just as bullets do not randomly issue from firearms nor drug concentrations randomly spread throughout a human body, words are not randomly found to issue from the keyboards and mouths of speakers of English or any other language. Words adhere to patterns; these patterns are the subjects of systematic observation of scientific linguists.
Forensic Linguistics applies the science of linguistic investigation to issues of the law. Forensic Linguistics augments legal analysis by applying rigorous, scientifically accepted principles of analysis to legal evidence like contracts, letters, confessions, and recorded speech.
In the arts, Dr. Leonard, while an undergraduate at Columbia, co-founded and led the rock group Sha Na Na and as vocalist, he and his group opened for Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Festival, and played at the Fillmores East and West, on television's Tonight Show, and in the Academy Award-winning Woodstock movie. He left the music business for a Fulbright Fellowship and earned his PhD at Columbia.
In his research, Leonard focuses not only on forensic linguistics but on language and other conceptual meaning systems such as social identity, food behavior, and architectural and public space. He has published on linguistic theoretical semantics, semiology, and forensic linguistics. He co-edited The Asian-Pacific American Heritage (Routledge), which was chosen by the American Library Association as "One of the Outstanding Academic Books of the Year," and contributed to it articles on dialect, slang, and standard languages; Southeast Asian food; and food and ethnic identity. His research in the anthropology of the semiology of food was presented at the Oxford Food Symposium, St. Anthony's College, Oxford University and published by Prospect Books of London.
*Photo by Phil Marino for the New York Times