Bridging the gap between stylistic and cognitive approaches to authorship analysis using Systemic Functional Linguistics and multidimensional analysis


  • Andrea Nini Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University
  • Tim Grant Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University



authorship attribution, systemic functional linguistics, multidimensional analysis, forensic stylistics


In the present state of the art of authorship attribution there seems to be an opposition between two approaches: cognitive and stylistic methodologies. It is proposed in this article that these two approaches are complementary and that the apparent gap between them can be bridged using Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and in particular some of its theoretical constructions, such as codal variation. This article deals with the theoretical explanation of why such a theory would solve the debate between the two approaches and shows how these two views of authorship attribution are indeed complementary. Although the article is fundamentally theoretical, two example experimental trials are reported to show how this theory can be developed into a workable methodology of doing authorship attribution. In Trial 1, a SFL analysis was carried out on a small dataset consisting of three 300-word texts collected from three different authors whose socio-demographic background matched across a number of parameters. This trial led to some conclusions about developing a methodology based on SFL and suggested the development of another trial, which might hint at a more accurate and useful methodology. In Trial 2, Biber’s (1988) multidimensional framework is employed, and a final methodology of authorship analysis based on this kind of analysis is proposed for future research.

Author Biographies

Andrea Nini, Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University

Andrea Nini holds a BA (Distinction) in Modern Languages Applied to Computer Science from Tor Vergata University of Rome and an MA (Distinction) in Applied Linguistics with specialisation in Forensic Linguistics from Aston University. His MA dissertation focused on the development of a Systemic Functional Linguistics framework for authorship attribution. Andrea’s interests are authorship profiling, corpus linguistics, sociolinguistics and Systemic Functional Linguistics. He is currently completing his Ph.D. at Aston University on the research of standardized protocols for authorship profiling and authorship analysis.

Tim Grant, Centre for Forensic Linguistics, Aston University

Tim Grant is Director of the Centre for Forensic Linguistics at Aston University and has worked across the disciplines of forensic linguistics and forensic psychology for nearly 20 years. He publishes principally in the areas of forensic authorship analysis and on the linguistics of the investigative interview. Recent publications concentrate on determining authorship in short form messages such as SMS, Twitter and Facebook status updates. In 2008 he was awarded the British Science Association Joseph Lister Award for his work on authorship analysis in SMS text messages. He has worked on criminal and civil cases in the UK and overseas and has given evidence at Crown Courts including the Old Bailey in London, at Courts martial in the UK and Germany and in civil hearings. In the criminal field he has worked across a range of offences involving terrorist conspiracy, murder and stalking. In civil cases he has provided evidence in unfair dismissal hearings and in cases concerning literary and student plagiarism and intellectual property theft. He is current Vice-President of IAFL.



How to Cite

Nini, A., & Grant, T. (2013). Bridging the gap between stylistic and cognitive approaches to authorship analysis using Systemic Functional Linguistics and multidimensional analysis. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 20(2), 173–202.