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Dr Emily Chiang - Aston University. Birmingham, , GB

Dr Emily Chiang

Postdoctoral Research Associate | Aston University


Dr Chiang's research focuses on linguistic expressions of identity in online criminal contexts.






Online sex offender tactics exposed in groundbreaking forensic linguistic study - Aston University




Dr Emily Chiang's research focuses on linguistic expressions of identity in online criminal contexts combining corpus tools with qualitative pragmatic methods like rhetorical move analysis and speech act theory. She has explored linguistic identity in online child sexual abuse interactions and how linguistic analysis and understanding can inform undercover police practice in this area. Her current research interests include the language of self-styled 'paedophile-hunters' and dark web fraud communities.

Areas of Expertise (8)

Forensic Linguistics

Linguistic Identity

Online Child Abuse

Dark Web


Move Analysis

Discourse Analysis

Corpus Linguistics

Education (3)

Aston University: PhD, Rhetorical moves and identity performance in online child sexual abuse interactions 2018

Aston University: MA, Forensic Linguistics 2015

Oxford Brookes University: BA, English Language and Linguistics & Education and Human Development 2009

Media Appearances (5)

Body of evidence: meet the experts working in crime scene forensics

The Guardian  online


‘There was an offender on the dark web who was partially identified because he regularly used the unusual greeting “hiyas”’: Emily Chiang, forensic linguistics.

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Researcher helps police track paedophiles on the dark web

Jersey Evening Post  online


Ex-Les Quennevais and Hautlieu pupil Emily Chiang spent three years on her PHD research that looked into three aspects of language used within paedophile groups on the dark web.

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The Linguist Who Helps Police Catch Child Predators

The Atlantic  online


In one 2017 paper, co-written with his colleague Emily Chiang, Grant identifies 14 “rhetorical moves used in chatroom grooming” and unpacks “the broad structures that grooming conversations take,” based on transcripts of real child grooming collated by Perverted Justice. The most common approach groomers take, he finds, is that they build a connection before introducing any sort of sexual component. And they try hard to keep the conversation going, sexual or not. One of the biggest tells is what Grant calls the “mitigating lol”—a way of downplaying a serious sexual request, such as “u should make a nude vid and send it to me,” by adding the word “lol” at the end. “[Its] use here implies something vaguely playful or unserious about these contributions,” Grant and Chiang write. Most offenders introduce sexual overtones early in a conversation, they find.

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Online paedophile tactics exposed in forensic linguistic study

Phys.org  online


Emily Chiang, a Ph.D. candidate at Aston University's Centre for Forensic Linguistics and lead author of the study, said: "This study looks at online instant messaging conversations between a convicted child sex offender and several of his victims. The offender adopted several different identities with different characteristics – some would be male, some female, one worked for a modelling agency – and I wanted to compare each of these in terms of linguistic moves."

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Online paedophile tactics exposed in forensic linguistic study

Aston University News  online


Emily Chiang, a PhD candidate at Aston University’s Centre for Forensic Linguistics and lead author of the study, said: “This study looks at online instant messaging conversations between a convicted child sex offender and several of his victims. The offender adopted several different identities with different characteristics – some would be male, some female, one worked for a modelling agency – and I wanted to compare each of these in terms of linguistic moves.”

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Research Grants (2)

Lead researcher on LEADS-Engine: Linguistically Enabled Analytic Dark Search Engine

Innovate UK 

September 2022 – August 2023 With Krzysztof Kredens (PI) at Aston University and Forensic Pathways Ltd.

Lead researcher on LASO: Linguistic Analysis of Sex Offender Interactions on Dark Web Forums

Alan Turing Institute Defence and Security Program 

October 2018 – June 2019 With Jack Grieve (PI) at the University of Birmingham and Dong Ngyen at Alan Turing Institute.

Articles (6)

Linguistic analysis of suspected child sexual offenders’ interactions in a dark web image exchange chatroom

The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law

2021 Child sexual offenders convene in dark web spaces to exchange indecent imagery, advice and support. In response, law enforcement agencies deploy undercover agents to pose as offenders online to gather intelligence on these offending communities. Currently, however, little is known about how offenders interact online, which raises significant questions around how undercover officers should ‘authentically’ portray the persona of a child sexual offender. This article presents the first linguistic description of authentic offender–offender interactions taking place on a dark web image exchange chatroom. Using move analysis, we analyse chatroom users’ rhetorical strategies. We then model the move sequences of different users and user types using Markov chains, to make comparisons between their linguistic behaviours. We find the predominant moves characterising this chatroom are Offering Indecent Images, Greetings, Image Appreciation, General Rapport and Image Discussion, and that rhetorical strategies differ between users of different levels of offending and dark web image-sharing experience.

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‘Send Me Some Pics’: Performing the Offender Identity in Online Undercover Child Abuse Investigations Get access Arrow

Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice

2020 This article presents a case study examining the performance of the offender identity in online child sexual abuse interactions between genuine suspected offenders and an undercover officer posing as an offender. Using a linguistic framework known as move analysis, the study describes and compares interactants' use of rhetorical moves, as well as move frequencies and structures. Similarities and differences in the performance of offenderness between suspected offenders and the undercover police officer are discussed. Interactions are characterised by a high level of rapport-building, sharing stories, and exchanging support. While the undercover officer largely emulates the moves of suspected offenders, key discrepancies include his comparative reluctance to engage in abuse-related story-telling and an increased tendency to inquire about abusive images. This work highlights possible target areas for police training in the task of online identity assumption in online child abuse cases.

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Attributing the Bixby Letter using n-gram tracing

Digital Scholarship in the Humanities

2018 There is a long-standing debate about the authorship of the Bixby Letter, one of the most famous pieces of correspondence in American history. Despite being signed by President Abraham Lincoln, some historians have claimed that its true author was John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary. Analyses of the letter have been inconclusive in part because the text totals only 139 words and is thus far too short to be attributed using standard methods. To test whether Lincoln or Hay wrote this letter, we therefore introduce and apply a new technique for attributing short texts called ‘n-gram tracing’. After demonstrating that our method can distinguish between the known writings of Lincoln and Hay with a very high degree of accuracy, we use it to attribute the Bixby Letter. We conclude that the text was authored by John Hay—rewriting this one episode in the history of the USA, while offering a solution to one of the most persistent problems in authorship attribution.

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Do Perverted Justice chat logs contain examples of Overt Persuasion and Sexual Extortion? A Research Note responding to Chiang and Grant (2017, 2018)

Language and Law Linguagem e Direito

2018 Studies by Chiang and Grant (2017, 2018) on the rhetorical moves of online child sexual abusers suggest that interactions between offenders and adults posing as children differ in various ways from those between offenders and genuine child victims. They point specifically to the use by one offender of moves identified as Overt persuasion and Extortion in his interactions with real children noting that these were absent from data featuring adults posing as children. The current study investigates whether these more coercive and forceful moves are in fact absent in sexualised interactions between offenders and adult decoys by applying corpus linguistic techniques to a corpus of 622 chat logs. It is shown that overtly persuasive language is rare in the texts, and that no extortion occurred. This finding supports Chiang and Grant’s claim and their assertion that data featuring adult decoys is not truly representative of interactions between child victims and their abusers.

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Deceptive Identity Performance: Offender Moves and Multiple Identities in Online Child Abuse Conversations

Applied Linguistics

2018 This article provides a case study of deceptive online identity performance by a convicted child sex offender. Most prior linguistic and psychological research into online sexual abuse analyses transcripts involving adult decoys posing as children. In contrast, our data comprise genuine online conversations between the offender and 20 victims. Using move analysis (Swales 1981, 1990), we explore the offender’s numerous presented personas. The offender’s use of rhetorical moves is investigated, as is the extent to which the frequency and structure of these moves contribute to and discriminate between the various online personas he adopts. We find from eight frequently adopted personas that two divergent identity positions emerge: the sexual pursuer/aggressor, performed by the majority of his online personas, and the friend/boyfriend, performed by a single persona. Analysis of the offender’s self-describing assertives suggests this distinctive persona shares most attributes with the offender’s ‘home identity’. This article importantly raises the question of whether move analysis might be useful in identifying the ‘offline persona’ in cases where offenders are known to operate multiple online personas in the pursuit of child victims.

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Online grooming: moves and strategies

Language and Law Linguagem e Direito

2017 Using transcripts of chatroom grooming interactions, this paper explores and evaluates the usefulness of Swales’ (1981) move analysis framework in contributing to the current understanding of online grooming processes. The framework is applied to seven transcripts of grooming interactions taken from perverted-justice:com. The paper presents 14 identified rhetorical moves used in chatroom grooming and explores the broad structures that grooming conversations take by presenting these structures as colour-coded visualisations which we have termed “move maps”. It also examines how some individual linguistic features are used to realise a single move termed “Assessing and Managing Risk”. The findings suggest that move analysis can usefully contribute in two key ways: determining communicative functions associated with ‘grooming language’ and the visualisation of variation between grooming interactions.

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