Nini at LEL seminar

Posted on September 21, 2018 by

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you will have heard about Andrea Nini’s investigation of Jack the Ripper’s letters. However, with all the media frenzy around this case, it’s hard to know the hard scientific facts from fake news anymore. Enter the LEL Seminar Series, giving you a chance to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Kicking off our Autumn seminar series, Andrea will tell us about the Jack the Ripper case on Tuesday 25th September at 4.15 in A 102. Abstract below.


Dr Andrea Nini

University of Manchester

Studying Jack the Ripper’s idiolect: The implications for modern linguistics

This talk will present the results of an analysis of the letters involved in the Whitechapel murders case, mostly signed as ‘Jack the Ripper’, and will make some considerations regarding the value of these for more general concerns of linguistics, and in particular forensic and cognitive linguistics. The Whitechapel murders case involved the murder of a number of prostitutes in Whitechapel in London in the autumn of 1888. The perpetrator(s) of these murders were not caught and this mystery has led to several speculations. During the case, 209 letters signed as ‘Jack the Ripper’ were received but historical evidence suggests, however, that these letters were written by hoaxers. More specifically, the two most important of these letters responsible for the creation of ‘Jack the Ripper’ might have been in fact fabricated by journalists with the aim of selling more newspapers. This talk will describe the results of a stylometric analysis aimed at identifying which of the 209 letters allegedly attributed to Jack the Ripper were written by the same person. Part of the evidence analysed revolves around grammatical constructions that seem to characterise the idiolect of the creator of ‘Jack the Ripper’ and raise interesting implications for the nature of idiolect and thus for cognitive and forensic linguistics. For example, these results tentatively suggest that idiolectal constructions, in the Construction Grammar sense of ‘construction’ , might exist. The implications for these results for the Jack the Ripper case, its socio-cultural dimension, and modern linguistics will be discussed.