1. What is LADO?

2. Why is LADO used?

3. Who is behind an analysis report?

4. What is Sprakab’s role?

5. What background qualifies an analyst?

6. Why is the analyst’s identity not public?

7. How is the work checked for quality?

1.What is LADO?

Linguistic Analysis for the Determination of Origin, LADO, is used by a number of immigration, police, and border control agencies throughout the world. LADO uses established linguistic methods and specially trained native speakers to try to identify the linguistic origin of individuals who seek asylum. The British Home Office explains its use of LADO on its Home page.

2.Why is LADO used?

An asylum seeker will often come from an area characterised by political violence and institutional chaos. It means he or she may not be able to present formal documentation regarding identity, birth place, birth date, etc. In this situation, LADO may be one of the few ways the individual can prove his or her origin. The way a person speaks is influenced by his or her ‘socialisation’; the mother tongue as well as the dialects spoken in the places where the individual has spent extended time. It means the language analysis may corroborate the individual’s life story regarding origin as well as time spent in refugee camps, etc.

The problem is that not all asylum seekers speak the dialect they claim to master. In this case, a language analysis will not corroborate the claim of origin. These individuals may have very good and honourable reasons for wanting to take up residence in a new country, but they do not qualify as refugees.  Asylum is meant for protecting especially vulnerable populations and not as a general path to immigration. For this reason, criticism of LADO tends to originate from asylum applicants (and their lawyers) who have been unsuccessful in getting their claimed native dialect confirmed. It is hardly surprising that these individuals will do what they can to discredit LADO in terms of both its principles and practice.

3.Who is behind an analysis report?

Sprakab uses a team of linguists and analysts to conduct language analysis work. The analyst – who interviews the asylum applicant by phone – must have native speaker knowledge of the dialect. It means the analyst will normally know whether the asylum seeker is speaking the claimed dialect in a matter of minutes. This is perfectly normal. It is no more strange than a native Cockney-speaker being able to distinguish another native Cockney-speaker from someone speaking ‘Mockney’ almost instantly.

An asylum applicant’s identity is never known to the analyst; only the gender and if the applicant is less than 18 years old. The analyst will also know about the claimed origin and any lengthy residencies in places such as refugee camps. Each interview is recorded to permit third party validation. After the interview, the analyst will document aspects of the applicant’s speech in a representative and linguistically correct manner in collaboration with a linguist. The linguist may bring in additional analysts for consultation, especially when the analysis results do not fully support the applicant’s claim of origin. All analysis results regarding phonology, morphology, syntax, etc. must be supported by specific examples from the recorded interview. The analysis report will also contain an assessment of the degree of certainty of the overall result. This allows for the expression of doubt due to the applicant originating from a geographical border area or dialectal features seemingly pointing in unexpected or ‘illogical’ directions, etc. The final report is validated by a second linguist before delivery to the customer.

4.What is Sprakab’s role?

Sprakab provides the professional and technical setup for LADO. In Sweden, this line of work was initiated within the Swedish Migration Board in the early 1990s, but was soon outsourced to the private sector. One reason was to avoid any suspicion of political interference in the analysis process. Other countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland have chosen to handle LADO within the auspices of their national immigration authorities.

Being entirely independent and working solely with public authority clients allows Sprakab to conduct LADO work without any other agenda than a quest to produce the most accurate, representative and reproducible work possible. Our staff members are ‘language nerds’ who may spend hours discussing and documenting variations in the pronunciation of a particular word. There are no incentives or pressures to produce anything but the most accurate results that our resources will allow, in every individual report. It also means we are at times unable to produce unambiguous results. If this is the case we will try to identify the reasons for such a conclusion and make this information part of the report.

5.What background qualifies an analyst?

There is currently no educational programme leading to the profession of ‘analyst’. This is very different from other linguistic professions such as language teacher, translator or interpreter, for which academic programmes are offered in many locations. It may also – at least partly – be the reason why there is limited knowledge and understanding of the LADO process among academic linguists.

To become an analyst, the individual must have been exposed to several linguistic variants within his or her ‘native region’. Another prerequisite is the ability to accurately distinguish phonemes, the smallest parts of spoken language. Being able to conduct structured and analytical work is also a must, in addition to a very high degree of personal integrity.

The combined lack of educational programmes and the specific requirements regarding personal traits makes identifying suitable analysts a challenge. We need to use a battery of tests. Once found, each analyst must be trained in-house. This will at a minimum take several months, and be tailored for the individual. The focus is on is linguistic training at an academic level, to ensure that the analyst’s reports conform with established linguistic documentation practices as well as with the legal requirements of asylum courts.

6.Why is the analyst’s identity not public?

In western democratic societies we instinctively react negatively to the idea of ’anonymous witnesses’ in court. There may, however, be reasons to accept this situation in exceptional cases, one example being analysts involved in LADO work. If the identities of analysts become known, the LADO process risks being corrupted by bribes or threats. This would render any LADO work useless for the purpose of offering asylum seekers a unique chance to use their spoken language to support their claim of origin. 

Lack of anonymity is also a problem for the analysts, including their family and property. If the analyst refuses to be bribed, he or she will instead receive threats of violence. This cannot be taken lightly in view of analysts originating from countries marked by civil war and oppression, with violence exerted between families, clans, religious or ethnic groups and regions. Very few – if any – analysts would accept LADO work without protection of their identity. Instead, it is a linguist with detailed understanding of each analysis report who signs it and is able to personally defend its results in court.

7.How is the work checked for quality?

Sprakab staff members are keenly aware of the serious consequences for an asylum applicant that an erroneous analysis result may entail. For this reason, there will always be several professionals contributing complementary information to each analysis report. Staff members are also aware of being continuously ‘blind tested’ regarding results, meaning they will sometimes be producing an actual report and sometimes just double-checking someone else’s work, without knowing which is which. This is a way to continuously validate training results and individual competence development.

Sprakab’s work is also regularly validated by an independent third party, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service of the Netherlands. The reports chosen for external validation are picked randomly or because they pose particular problems where Sprakab is seeking external confirmation. The external validation work from the Netherlands shows excellent agreement with Sprakab’s results for all dialects over time.

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