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It Is Not What We Say But How We Say It

NCJ Number
White Paper Volume: 17 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2003 Pages: 19,21,38,39
Isabel Picornell
Date Published
May 2003
4 pages
This article explains the concept that how someone says or writes something, rather than the content of what is communicated, is one of the most informative and reliable indicators of deception.
Linguistic style (how something is said) is the manner of speaking and writing that distinguishes one person from another; it is constant across time, situations, and topics. As the deceiver concentrates on and preplans information-heavy words (nouns, regular verbs, and modifiers) to convince the "audience" that he or she is sincere, the deceiver will pay less attention to particles (pronouns, conjunctions, repositions, auxiliary verbs, and articles) that apparently do not contribute to the story. It is these insignificant words that are most revealing in identifying deception. Certain characteristics are typical of deceptive communication and are not dependent on context, namely, uncertainty, vagueness, nervousness, reticence, dependence, and unpleasantness (negative effect). Most of these characteristics dictate how and when a person uses particles. The author provides examples of how the use of particles in recounting a series of events indicates deception. Further, deception occurs by manipulating the amount, truthfulness, relevance, and clarity of the information conveyed. To achieve this, deceivers use three main linguistic styles to construct their deceptions. One is ambiguousness and prolixity. This style is characterized by semantically rich and complex sentences in which the information is not clear or relevant. Another linguistic style of deceivers is concise assertiveness and elliptic avoidance. This style is characterized by a reticent attitude and indirect responses. Deceivers avoid discovery by saying the bare minimum. The third main linguistic style of deceivers is depersonalization. This style is characterized by the deceiver's disassociation from the messages and shifting the focus to an external context in which the situation does not involve the deceiver or any personal input. Thus, analysis of linguistic style is a useful new tool for detecting deception in interviews pertinent to criminal investigations. 11 notes