I wrote (very briefly) about forensic linguistics back in 2003, and I was glad to get this week’s New Yorker and discover that the lead article, by Jack Hitt, was on that subject. Unfortunately, all they put online is an abstract, but that should give you a good enough idea to decide if you want to spring for the issue. If you’re already a subscriber, I recommend reading it. And one of the linguists prominently featured is Roger Shuy, “a Georgetown University professor and the author of such fundamental textbooks as Language Crimes: The Use and Abuse of Language Evidence in the Courtroom,” whom I know slightly (through correspondence), so I will mention that his name, pronounced like the word shy, is from the Alsatian name Scheu (etymologically the same as the English word it sounds like).

Update (Nov. 2022). The New Yorker link now goes to the full article.


  1. ” is from the Alsatian name Scheu (etymologically the same as the English word it sounds like).”
    Could I trouble you for a clarification? I see ‘Scheu’ and naturally want to pronounce it as if it were Hochdeutsch. Am I right in guessing that it’s the Alsation word for ‘shoe’ and pronounced the same way as its English equivalent?

  2. Sorry, I guess I was too laconic. It means ‘shy’ and “sounds like” that English word (though of course is not identical to it).

  3. I don’t know how they say it in Alsace, mind you; I just pronounce it as standard German.

  4. What’s the Alsatian for “pert”?

  5. According to this 2010 article in the Badische Zeitung, the number of people in the Alsace who can speak German has been declining for some time. Starting in 1945, the French have made every attempt to suppress the Alsatian language and culture. There is only one official language: French, and only one language to be used in schools: French. In the period 1940-45, the Nazis had tried to turn things the other way around. Alsace has not had a happy history, it appears.
    Here, in Alsatian, is the Alsatian WiPe article on the Alsatian language. It’s kinda cute, if I may be permitted such a unprofessional effusion. I see a bit of Palatinate (?, I mean Pfälzisch) here, Rheinish Platt there, some German-fried French etc.
    From what I can tell from an Alsatian-dialects-to-German dictionary, scheu may not be pronounced as in German, or else the orthography is slightly different. The scheu entry is spelled scheü, with variants schüch, schü.
    By the way, on the origin of the name “Alsace” the English WiPe article offers you a choice of vanilla or chocolate:

    The name “Alsace” can be traced to the Old High German Ali-saz or Elisaz, meaning “foreign domain”. An alternative explanation is from a Germanic Ell-sass, meaning “seated on the Ill”, a river in Alsace.

  6. When I wrote “I see a bit of Pfälzisch …” etc, I did not intend to claim that Alsatian is cobbled together from dialects of German. What do I know about the development of German dialects, or for that matter of English ones ? I should have said something like: “I recognize bits that resemble Pfälzisch, Rheinish Platt …”

  7. I got your basic hexagonal propaganda about Alsace in French class, where Mme Ruegg had us read Alphonse Daudet’s tear-jerking “La Derniere Classe.”

  8. marie-lucie says

    Alsace has been pulled to and fro between France and Germany for centuries and many of the inhabitants consider themselves Alsatian first. It is still governed differenty from other regions in some respects (eg the official status of churches), because of the terms of the 1918 treaty which transferred the province back to France under conditions which preserved elements of its former status under Germany.
    The lack of recognition of the “indigenous” languages still spoken in French territory is not peculiar to Alsatian. French has been the only official language (ie that used by government) since the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts in 1539. At that time, only legal documents were required to be written in French, and the royal government was not concerned about that ordinary citizens spoke in everyday life, or what was taught in any schools.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    “Seated on the Ill” sounds like an image from a rap lyric that is no doubt exhaustively annotated and exegeted at one of the websites referenced in a previous post.

  10. I had hoped that someone would look at the (to me) strange phonetic notation used in that dictionary, and tell us from the scheü entry (which I linked) how the word is pronounced.

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