Language Use and Professional Discourse as an Important Component of Forensic Anthropology

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Emily Michon


Communication plays a vital role in the perception of forensic anthropology as a necessary and beneficial component of
society, and, as anthropologists, we are responsible for communicating in a way that is considered appropriate by the communities we
serve. Consequently, understanding what constitutes “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language is an important component of forensic
anthropology. Despite the importance of communication, classroom learning and professional training in forensic anthropology do not
always directly address language use. Using concepts from linguistic anthropology, the aim of this study is to determine what registers
exist within forensic anthropology; how they are learned, understood, and communicated; the ways in which they compare to language use
in other forensic disciplines; and why it is important to address professional language use in forensic anthropology. The term register
refers to linguistic repertoire associated with particular persons and social settings, varying culturally with individuals and their social
practices (Agha 1999). Data collected from an online questionnaire distributed to members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences
(AAFS) were used to analyze individual perceptions of language use in professional settings. Results show that register is affected by
demographic variation among professionals, audience, location, and professional experience. Registers that commonly appear include
technical jargon, professional, respectful, and humorous language. This study concludes that language competency is vital in maintaining
an ethical relationship with both public and professional communities, and that students and early professionals would benefit from a more
direct approach to learning the significance and use of language in forensic settings.

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