Language Analysis to Determine the Origin of Asylum Seekers (LADO): The «Guidelines» in phonetic perspective

Helen Fraser and Carol Pedersen

The fact that language, as well as conveying linguistic meaning, also encodes information about a speaker's regional and social identity, has been successfully used in forensic contexts for some time (Labov, 1985). In principle, such information provides a useful tool for immigration departments seeking to determine the national origin or community membership of asylum seekers presenting without papers. However, cases have been documented (Eades et al., 2003) in which language analysis used for this purpose has not conformed to acceptable standards of linguistic rigour. A set of Guidelines (LNOG, 2004) has been published, and endorsed by many linguistic organisations (McNamara, 2005, Patricks, 2008), to aid governments using language analysis for the determination of origin (LADO).

However, these Guidelines were formulated mainly on sociolinguistic considerations. Since a major indicator of origin, especially in cases where a speaker may be attempting to assume an inauthentic identity (Cambier-Langeveld, 2007) is accent, phonetic issues are also relevant. Phonetic science has been researching listeners' ability to use subtle differences of accent to identify speakers' regional and social background for many years, developing a body of knowledge about:

  • what phonetic cues affect identification
  • what social and personal factors affect a speaker's accent
  • what social and personal factors affect a listener's ability to identify an accent
  • what factors cause a speaker's accent to change in the long or short term
  • the extent to which people can fake an accent other than their authentic accent
  • the extent to which speakers are consciously aware of which features affect accent identification

To date, however, the question, crucial in forensic contexts, of how to judge the accuracy of accent identification under various conditions has received relatively little attention. The present paper

  • presents background on the contexts in which LADO is undertaken in immigration cases;
  • considers points of similarity and difference between LADO and fields such as earwitness testimony and perceptual dialectology;
  • reviews the current state of knowledge about accent identification; and
  • considers whether and how the Guidelines need to be extended to take account of specifically phonetic aspects of language analysis.


Cambier-Langeveld, T. (2007). Hot Issues in the Field of «Language Analysis». IAFPA 16th Conference, Plymouth, UK.

Eades, D., H. Fraser, J. Siegel, T. McNamara & B. Baker (2003). Linguistic identification in the determination of nationality: A preliminary report. Language Policy 2, 179-99.

Labov, W. (1985). The judicial testing of linguistic theory. In Tannen, D. (ed.) Linguistics in Context: Connecting Observation and Understanding. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation. 159-82.

Language and National Origin Group (2004). Guidelines for the use of language analysis in relation to questions of national origin in refugee cases. International Journal of Speech Language and the Law 11, 261-6.

Ultima modifica 24.11.2009

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