Lecture: Enam Al-Wer and Maria Fanis

When and Where

Thursday, April 04, 2019 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
HW 525
University of Toronto Scarborough


Enam Al-Wer, University of Essex
Maria Fanis, Ohio University


The Commercialisation of Linguistic Expertise in the Asylum Vetting Process

One procedure that has been followed in several countries around the world since the 1990s is that of vetting origins of, mostly, undocumented asylum seekers by commissioning a linguistic analysis of the applicant’s speech. The linguistic analysis, which may be commissioned directly through a state agency or through a private entity franchised by the state, is usually based on empirical data obtained through an interview in the language of the asylum seeker. The purpose of the interview is twofold: to obtain a sample of the applicant’s speech, which is akin to the procedures followed in sociolinguistic research, and to vet the applicant’s general knowledge of the locality in which they were socialised. The recorded interview is then analysed by a linguist who is normally an expert in the dialects of the region or country that the applicant alleges to be their origin. This expert linguist is asked to write a linguistic report and to assess, on the basis of the analysis of the recorded interview, how likely it is that the applicant was socialised in the country they claim as their origin. The linguistic report is usually used by the border agencies as part of the evidence for the vetting of the application.

In this talk, we examine the effects of commercialisation on the process of asylum vetting in general. With a focus on a specific asylum appeals case in the UK, we illustrate how the privatisation of the linguistic forensic services in this process has a negative effect on the use of language for the determination of the asylum seekers’ place of origin. Using the epistemic communities as a theoretical framework, it is argued that the commercialisation of the expert knowledge of the linguists involved in asylum vetting has detrimental consequences on the use of expert knowledge for the public good.


Talk co-hosted by the Language, Mobility and Social Justice Working Group, UTSC, and the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies Interactions Seminar Series.  Please RSVP to Atiqa Hachimi before April 1st.

Contact Information


University of Toronto Scarborough