Analyses of origin: Reactions from the academic world and further development

If one observes the development of analyses of origin made by the public administrations of a variety of Western European states, one can say that the first theoretical concerns were, at the beginning, extremely modest and that, for example, awareness of the complexity of the linguistic part of the analysis of origin only set in little by little1).

This has drawn criticism first of all because clarifications in the area of asylum are generally a sensitive topic in which the ethic aspects of such clarifications come into play, but also because the units did not actively inform the public about their different procedures and kept anonymous the experts involved in such clarifications. Consequently, a criticism which has often been expressed, not only by the scientific world but also by the media, concerns the lack of transparency in the procedure itself2). Secondly, criticism was expressed on the use of «speech analysts» who are not academically trained linguists but merely people who have native competence of the languages to be analysed. Native speakers lack the necessary, theoretical knowledge to describe certain languages and speech phenomena and they do not possess the important, basic foundations of dialectology and sociolinguistics3). Finally, the results of the analyses were often interpreted as results on the nationality of a subject. However, it should be stressed that an analysis of origin can of course in no way determine a person's nationality but rather the milieu and region of his/her socialization.

This point is referred to in the Guidelines4) which were drawn up in 2004 by an international group of linguists in order to define the basic principles for analyses of origin and to give recommendations for the implementation and use of such analyses. They also state, amongst other things, that linguistic analyses must be carried out by qualified linguists, who should have the right to remain anonymous as long as they can prove their qualifications. It was also pointed out that linguistic borders do not always correspond with political borders and that a variety of linguistic phenomena like, for example, code-switching, style-shifting or accommodation effects5) need to be considered.

The Guidelines coincide with the methods of work developed by LINGUA. In addition, the reports produced by LINGUA do not only consist of a linguistic analysis of the speech pattern(s) but are complemented with an evaluation of the socio-cultural knowledge of the subject. This enables the achievement of more reliable results, particularly in those cases where varieties of speech cross borders (this is a problem also mentioned in the Guidelines). The examining of the social and cultural knowledge of a person is of great significance particularly for a speaker of a language/dialect that has not or only poorly been researched, which is the case in many African languages.

Furthermore, the LINGUA team which, as has been stated, consists of linguists who are aware of the possibilities and limits of such analyses, thinks that it is important to provide the experts with its support and to proofread each report thoroughly.

The possibilities for evaluating the quality of the analyses in a systematic and uniform manner have been researched very little up to now: thus, in the context of asylum and foreign nationals, successful readmissions and recognitions through the state of origin – or even through documents which turn up at a later point – can provide a certain amount of information on the validity of the result. However, this information is not systematically transmitted to LINGUA. Moreover, the aforementioned problem persists, namely that the determination of the country of socialization of a person does not necessarily tell us whether he/she is a national of that particular country. Also the topic of the eliciting of data has only been discussed and researched6) in a limited way up to now. In this respect, the research project on LINGUA interviews has produced new insights. LINGUA also strives to promote the dialogue between administrations and the scientific community. Therefore, LINGUA regularly takes part in national and international events concerning linguistics7) and cultivates contacts with scientific institutions as well as foreign partner organisations with the purpose of exchanging gathered experiences, discussing the various procedural processes and acquiring knowledge and inputs from the academic world.

For this reason, in summer 2008, LINGUA organized a workshop on the topic of ‹Linguistic Analyses within the Asylum Procedure›. Participants included representatives from various European organisations that establish such analyses of origin, as well as academics from many different countries. The goal of the workshop was to provide more transparency in the field of analyses of origin, present the different working methods of the various organisations, exchange experiences and discuss the possibilities and limitations of such analyses with the help of the attending scientists8).

1) For a general overview, compare REATH Anne: «Language analysis in the context of asylum process: Procedures, validity and consequences». Language Assessment Quarterly: An International Journal, Vol. 1, Number 4, 2004, pp. 209-233.

2) Cf. EADES Diana, ARENDS Jacques: «Using language analysis in the determination of national origin of asylum seekers: an introduction». The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Formerly Forensic Linguistics. Birmingham, 2004, vol. 11 (2), pp. 179-199. The process is administered in a different way by each state. In Switzerland, not only do the experts remain anonymous, but the reports are also not made public. The former is for reasons of security and the latter, above all, for reasons of the learning effect, since the reports produced by LINGUA are very detailed.

3) CORCORAN Chris: «A critical examination of the use of language analysis Interviews in asylum proceedings: a case study of a West African seeking asylum in the Netherlands». The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Formerly Forensic Linguistics. Birmingham, 2004, vol. 11 (2), pp. 220-221; MARYNS Katrijn, compare footnote 8; SINGLER John Victor: «The 'linguistic' asylum interview and the linguist’s evaluation of it, with special reference to applicants for Liberian political asylum in Switzerland». The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Formerly Forensic Linguistics. Birmingham, 2004, vol. 11 (2), pp. 220-240.

4) «Guidelines for the use of language analysis in relation to questions of national origin in refugee cases», Language and National Origin Group, June, 2004, in The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Formerly Forensic Linguistics. Birmingham, 2004, vol. 11 (2), pp. 261-266 – also at:

5) Code-switching: changing to another language for a word, part of a sentence or a longer section; style-shifting: changing or adapting to a certain register of that particular language (e.g. from street language to elevated speech). Accommodation effect: The tendency of a speaker to adjust his/her language towards that of his/her interlocutor.

6) View contributions at the Workshop «Language Analysis in Refugee Status Determination», 16th Sociolinguistics Symposium, Limerick/Ireland, 06.-08.07.2006  

7) Among others: 7th Biennial Conference on Forensic Linguistics/Language and the Law/ IAFL (International Association for Forensic Linguists) in Cardiff/Wales, 01.-04.07.2005 
Workshop Language Analysis in Refugee Status Determination at the 16th Sociolinguistics Symposium, Limerick/Ireland, 06.-08.07.2006;
Second European IAFL Conference on Forensic Linguistics/Language and the Law) in Barcelona/Spain, 14.-16.09.2006;
4th days of Swiss Linguistics, Basel/Switzerland, 20.-21.11.2006;
Workshop on Language Analysis in the determination of national origin of refugees at the Joint Summer Meeting of the Society of Pidgin and Creole Linguistics (SPCL) and the Associação de Crioulos de Base lexical portuguesa e Espanhola (ACBLPE) in Amsterdam/Holland, 21.06.2007;
9th Biennial Conference on Forensic Linguistics/Language and the Law/ IAFL (International Association for Forensic Linguistics) in Amsterdam/Holland, 06.-09.07.2009;
6th Worlds Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL) in Cologne/Germany, 17.-21.08.2009

8) Workshop on linguistic analyses within the asylum procedure in Lausanne/Switzerland, 23.-24.07.2008


Last modification 06.07.2021

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