Forensic Linguistic Analysis of Court Room Language

Topics: Linguistics, Systemic functional grammar, Question Pages: 33 (4423 words) Published: March 22, 2014
EMA Project

‘A comparative register analysis of two legal examination transcripts involving the same witness. One the Friendly Counsel; the other the Cross-Examination: A Systemic Functional Linguistic Approach.’

After further research since the research proposal (Ferguson, 2012), the terminology has been altered. The terminology is now in accordance with An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence (Coulthard and Johnson, 2007). Friendly Counsel indicates that the witness being questioned is their witness. Cross-Examination indicates that the opposing side is questioning the witness. In this case the Friendly Counsel is the prosecution and the Cross-Examination the defence.

1. The aims of the investigation.

This research project analyses two texts from opposing legal sides. They both involve the questioning of a prosecution witness. The texts are from An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence (Coulthard and Johnson, 2007, p.107 – 110). This project builds upon the research already conducted by the authors. This incremental research utilizes the Hallidayan systemic function linguistic framework in Unit 8 Ways of Speaking – Exploring Linguistic Variability (White, 2005, p.46), however it also employs the critical linguistic approach in Unit 20 Critical Linguistic Approaches (White, 2005), particularly the recommended guidelines (p.123) for conducting a small-scale research project. As the link between language choices and social context is crucial to critical linguistics (White, 2005, Unit 20, p121), the approach taken in this project has been refined since the research proposal to provide more relevant links between language and social context.


2. The rationale and main conceptual themes for the investigation

Although legal texts were not mentioned in the E303 material, applicable frameworks were. The rationale for choosing text from the legal register is based on current social issues of fairness. Two recent legal issues have raised questions of what is fair and just. In Russia there has been much international condemnation over the severity of punishment that the political punk band ‘Pussy Riot’ received (Daniel Sandford, 2012). In Britain, there has also been international and domestic attention to the handling of Julian Assange (BBC, 2012) who ran the website ‘WikiLeaks’, which published secret and delicate government documents. Legal issues such as these seem to test the justness of the legal system.

This project is an investigation into finer aspects of the legal register; the language used by lawyers to achieve their goal. This area of linguistics comes under Forensic Linguistics, a branch of applied linguistics, which has been growing in prominence, particularly in the last fifteen years. (Coulthard and Johnson, 2007, p.5). Certain cases such as Derek Bentely (Grant, 2009), who was hanged in 1953 for his part in the murder of a policeman, have been revised, after a discourse analysis led to his pardon in 1998 due to linguistic anomalies in statements of witnesses and the accused. In 2002, Stuart Campbell was convicted of the murder of Danielle Jones (Grant, 2009) after an analysis of text messages from his mobile phone.

Whereas previous research has focused on the language of witnesses and accused, this project adopts a different perspective and focuses on the language used by lawyers to obtain desired information and answers from witnesses.

Relevant E303 material

A systemic functional linguistic approach is taken involving the metafunctions of field, tenor and mode. Systemic functional linguistics specifies, “much more precisely which aspects of the social context might influence or determine which aspects of the language are being used” (White, 2005, Unit 8, p.14).

This project uses the following selected elements of systemic functional linguistics.

Semantic categories of lexical verbs,...

Bibliography: (2012) ‘Profile: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’, BBC, [online]
(Accessed 23 August 2012)
Biber, D., Conrad, S
Coffin, C. (2005) ‘Making a text hang together: the role of lexical cohesion’, in Coffin, C. (eds), Evaluating everyday texts, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Coffin, C
Coulthard, M. and Johnson, J. (2007) ‘An introduction to forensic linguistics: Language in evidence, Oxon, Routledge
Ferguson, D
O’Halloran, K . A. and Peter, W. (2005) ‘The angle on the world’, in O’Halloran, K . A. (eds), Getting inside English, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Peter, W
Peter, W. (2005) ‘Getting interpersonal: the grammar of social roles and relationships, in Coffin, C (eds). Getting Practical, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Peter, W
Grant, T. (2009) Developing investigative linguistics as a forensic science [online], Birmingham, Aston University Centre for Forensic Linguistics http (Accessed 23 August 2012).
Sandford, D. (2012) ‘Pussy Riot jail terms condemned as disproportionate ', BBC, [online]
(Accessed 23 August 2012).
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