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28 February 2022
New Research Chair in Forensic Linguistics and Multilingualism
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has a new Research Chair in Forensic Linguistics and Multilingualism. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, Professor José Frantz, funds the chair as part of her initiative to create a strategic funding instrument aimed at strengthening research and innovation capacity, enhancing the training of a new generation of researchers, and developing established researchers in all knowledge areas.

This Research Chair is the first of its kind in South Africa and Africa. Forensic Linguistics is a relatively new field of study in South Africa, though it is well established in places like the USA, the UK, and Australia.

Forensic Linguistics deals with language and the law. Arguably language is law, and law is language. Law, after all, deals with the art of persuasion, which has language at its core. The importance of this relationship is particularly relevant in a multilingual and multicultural society such as South Africa. It is essential to empower lawyers, linguists, or language practitioners to understand this vital link. This will avoid certain cases being decided on cultural and linguistic misunderstandings, for example, where there is no equivalence of meaning dealing with a specific word in an African language and its English translation.

This Research Chair aims to build the research area of Forensic Linguistics in multilingual Africa. According to Coulthard and Johnson (2010), in The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics, this discipline ‘… is an attempt to improve the delivery of justice using language analysis.’ This involves a three-pronged approach where Forensic Linguists can look at the study of legal texts, the linguistic study of the legal process, and investigative linguistics. Forensic Linguistic research is highly interdisciplinary, involving disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, criminology, policing and law. This research will improve access to justice and ensure that the constitutional mandate for language rights is practically implemented and realised. It will contribute to civil society and help to build a research corpus through ground-breaking research at UWC. Additionally, this interdisciplinary research will contribute to improving the current legal system and understanding of multilingualism.
It is imperative to begin somewhere on the African continent to position the study of Forensic Linguistics and Multilingualism. Hosting conferences and creating research throughputs (submitting publications and registering postgraduate students) will form part of the collaborative work with interested members in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

The main aim is to set up the first Forensic Linguistics (Language and Law) and Multilingualism Research Chair/Centre in Africa. It will offer Honours, Master’s and PhD programmes in Forensic Linguistics and collaborate with other interested parties at UWC, including Forensic History as well as multilingualism and social justice. A full-time Honours course in Forensic Linguistics has already been approved and will be offered in the Department of African Language Studies this year. The research projects that are envisaged fall under the broad areas of Forensic Linguistics, now an internationally recognised field, but a field that is yet to be firmly established in South Africa and on the African continent. This will make the Research Chair completely unique, and it will fill a niche area where little or no research has been done. 

This Research Chair is occupied by Professor Russell H Kaschula, a linguist and lawyer based in the Department of African Language Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.