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A Pragmalinguistic Analysis of Courtroom Questions in a Multilingual Context


The paper is a pragmalinguistic analysis of the triadic verbal exchanges among the lawyers, the witness and the court interpreters during the courtroom interrogation in a multilingual context. It involved nine lawyers who interrogated 15 witnesses who belonged to different cultural backgrounds and spoke different languages. Inasmuch as the witnesses testified in their own language, the court interpreters assumed a critical role as facilitators of the communication of evidence during the courtroom talk. The corpus of the study consisted of the recordings of hearings of the interpreted testimonies of 13 different criminal cases heard at the 9th Judicial Regional Trial Courts in Zamboanga City particularly at Branches 14, 15, 16 and 17. All the questions asked by the lawyers and the corresponding answers of the witness to the questions during the direct examination and cross-examination were recorded and later on transcribed, constituted the corpus of the study.

The courtroom questions were categorized in terms of the following levels: (I) lexico-semantic structures of questions (1) lexical choice (modal auxiliaries (can and could), and (2) nominals of address (Madam/Mr. Witness, mam or sir, and (b) Syntactic structures of questions that included (a) WH-questions, (b) Bi-polar questions and (c) Open-ended questions. It analyzed the (II) Sequential levels of questions as (a) Preliminary, (b) Information-checking, and (c) Evidence-validating questions used by the lawyers and differentiated them from the sequential levels of questions used during the two modalities of courtroom interrogations. The analysis of the discourse functions of courtroom questions were likewise done that focused on the three types of communication strategies, namely (a) Indirect Speech Acts (ISA’s) and (b) Declaratives without tags (DWOT’s) principally used by the lawyers, and (c) the use of Self-repair Strategies (Repetition (RE) and (b) Reformulation (RF) mainly used by the court interpreters when they interpreted the lawyers’ questions as well as the witnesses’ answers to the questions.

The study found that the modal auxiliaries 'Can' and 'Could' were used as a softening device and/or as an indirect request. Both modals pervaded during the direct examination, whereas the nominals of address were used in almost the same number of times by both the prosecution and the defense lawyers. Of the three question types, WH-question predominated the direct examination followed by Bi-polar questions. Open-ended questions were minimally used by both the prosecution and the defense lawyers. The sequential levels of questioning were utilized by the respective lawyers to develop a distinct version of the story that favored their respective ends. The defense lawyers exploited the use of the communication strategies, namely, Indirect Speech Acts (ISA’) and Declaratives without tags (DWOT’s) during the cross-examination. On the other hand, the court interpreters used Repetition (RE) and/or Reformulation (RF) when they interpreted the lawyers’ questions and the witnesses’ answers to the questions when a literal interpretation was not possible.

Mostra/Nascondi contenuto.
Chapter 1 THE PROBLEM AND ITS BACKGROUND 1.1 Introduction Previous research on courtroom discourse has shown that society, law, and language are mutually constructed and all three components are assumed to constitute the legal culture. One basic component within a judicial culture is courtroom talk within which language plays a crucial part. Being one of the major types of professional discourse, the talk is not a commonplace verbal exchange in that the interlocutors are between an expert representing some authority and a layperson (Agar, 1985, cited in Gunnarson, et al., 1997). Accordingly, this type of discourse displays several common features that set it distinct from everyday conversation and thus warrants a peculiar genre of its own. As a sub-genre, its analysis can be centered on all or any of the following: contents of conversation, the professional roles of the participants, the context of the communicative event, and the aim of the dyadic verbal exchanges as they occur in the doctor-patient, teacher-students, and lawyer-witness interaction. The lawyer-witness interaction is characterized by the use of legal language which by its very nature is discoursal and interpretative. It can be observed that a great part of the professional life of the lawyer, in the academic sense, is spent in interpreting the language of the law as in the case of legislative writing, and in the professional sense, getting a witness to present the pertinent evidence or tell his/her stories before the judge, through a communicative act: questioning. But on what does the significance of questioning or interrogating as a speech act in a legal setting rest? Tadio (1983) argues that interrogation is a process of questioning witnesses and suspects to obtain further information relative to the case. Moreover, he stresses that there seems to be no other means of getting information about the case without the use of questions.

International thesis/dissertation

Autore: Minda Santos Contatta »

Composta da 287 pagine.


Questa tesi ha raggiunto 278 click dal 11/06/2007.


Consultata integralmente 2 volte.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.