To a trained ear, the language you use is much more revealing than you might think. Like the Sherlock Holmes of the language world, a linguistic analyst looks for clues in both written and spoken language. By paying careful attention to aspects of language like word choice, word order, grammar and colloquialisms, linguistic analysis can uncover secrets people would rather keep hidden. Sometimes, these clues can even be the key that solves a stubborn mystery. It’s all so much more fascinating than the “Intro to Linguistics Class” you might have taken in school.
In fact, here are five mysteries linguistic analysis has helped to solve.
Who made the world WannaCry?
Last year, WannaCry ransomware swept the world. The computer worm infected up to 200,000 computers in 150 countries. It wreaked havoc in NHS hospitals in England and Scotland.
But who created it? To find out, Researchers analysed the language of the program’s ransom notes. They found that only the English and Chinese versions of the ransom notes had been written or translated by humans. The Chinese language version contained a minor typo. The English language version included some of the awkward phrasings you might expect from a second language speaker. Based on this, researchers concluded that the hackers who created the worm were probably native Chinese speakers.
By analysing the text for common regional variations in language, the researchers were able to narrow down the geographic location even further. According to Minda Zetlin of Inc.com,
“The text uses certain terms that further narrow down a geographic location. One term, ‘礼拜’ for ‘week,’ is more common in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore; although it is occasionally used in other regions of the country.”