Plans to use biometric linguistics to analyze a controversial and potentially important early American literary document were announced by Institute of Linguistic Evidence (ILE) founder Dr. Carole E. Chaski. In collaboration with Dr. Roger Stritmatter, a Coppin State University literary historian, Chaski will employ the patent pending ALIAS biometric linguistic system to solve this 163-year-old literary “Whodunnit?”
This collaboration between the Institute for Linguistic Evidence and Dr. Stritmatter will be the first time that author identification methods developed for the forensic setting, having repeatedly met legal standards for admissible scientific evidence, will be applied to a literary puzzle. This particular document is perfect for this new collaboration because it is brief, just like the typical threat letter or suicide note or nasty letter to the SEC.
“This April 1846 satirical manuscript, The PHILADal GAZETTE – EXTR, includes seven pen and ink drawings accompanying a 437-word commentary on U.S. and World news of the 1840’s, as well as obscure references to contemporary circumstances known only to the writer and the intended recipient(s)” said Dr. Stritmatter. “The document’s leading image is a rider seated on a sea monster, racing several ships to deliver mail and news between Liverpool and America. Several prominent features of the manuscript, purchased from a New Jersey manuscript dealer, suggest that the author may be a well-known 19th century American novelist.”
High quality images of the manuscript with drawings have been published at the ILE Telling TALE blog for examination, review and discussion.
A clue to the document’s possible genesis lies in an anonymous contribution to the Jun 19, 1847 issue of Yankee Doodle, a popular humor magazine: “We are happy to announce on behalf of the Postmaster General,” writes the satire, “that a reward of One thousand Dollars will be paid to any person who will procure him a private interview with the Sea-serpent, of Nahant notoriety. Mr. Johnson is convinced that an economical arrangement can be made with the Serpent, for the transportation of the European Mails from Boston to Halifax.”
Did two anonymous satirists of the 1840’s both hit on the idea of a Sea Serpent carrying the international mail? Or is the author of the anonymous Yankee Doodle squib also the creator of the Hydrachos satire?
“This opportunity to use ALIAS biometric linguistic analysis on an important literary puzzle turns the table on the relationship between literary author identification and forensic author identification,” Dr. Carole E. Chaski, the Executive Director of the Institute for Linguistic Evidence said. “For the last fifteen years, literary scholars have been attempting to apply literary methods of author identification to forensic problems, and have not succeeded for two reasons. First, the basic techniques for literary author identification typically require far longer documents than the forensic setting usually allows; a novel is far longer than the typical threat letter, for instance. Second, literary author identification is grounded in close reading and other qualitative methods which do not meet the legal bar for admissible scientific evidence, such as repeatability, objectivity and error calculations.”
Dr. Stritmatter, an Associate Professor at Baltimore’s Coppin State, will use the ALIAS biometric linguistic system to further his investigation of the document. Dr. Stritmatter was awarded an ILE mini-grant during the 2009 funding cycle to pursue the research. Investigators will employ ALIAS to test several alternative authorship candidates to cross-validate results and establish the plausibility of the null hypothesis.
“I am excited by the opportunity to employ ALIAS to solve this problem,” said Stritmatter. “Given the small sample size, we need a method that can make fine linguistic discriminations to determine authorship even of short documents. By testing the document against a pool of possible suspects and mid-19th century controls, we will know how definitive any possible attribution might be.”
About The Institute for Linguistic Evidence
The Institute for Linguistic Evidence was founded in 1998 by Dr. Carole E. Chaski as a non-profit, scientific research organization. The Institute, also called ILE, conducts pioneering research and development of methods for handling language as evidence and providing validated, tested and proven methods for answering forensically significant questions. ILE is the primary sponsor of the forensic linguistics professional organization, The Association for Linguistic Evidence (TALE).
ILE is the research and development wing of ALIAS Technology, LLC (aliastechnology.com). Based on litigation-independent ILE research and method validation, ALIAS provides forensic consulting services and the first on-demand biometric linguistic analysis solutions to law enforcement and investigators, security consultants and government agencies, commercial organizations, attorneys, the academic community and general public.