Minority language speakers and disadvantage before the law

Challenges for applied linguistics


  • Ikuko Nakane University of Melbourne




Forensic Linguistics, Discouse Analysis, Intercultural Communication


With the increasing global mobility, and growing awareness of language rights in many parts of the world, issues related to minority language speakers’ participation in the legal process are now attracting increasing attention from scholars and those in the legal profession. As Tiersma (1993: 135) argues, ‘[f]ew professions are as concerned with language as is the law’. One manifestation is the disadvantage suffered by lay people unfamiliar with how language works in legal contexts such as police interviews and courtroom cross-examination. This gap in the access to linguistic repertoire between lay people and legal professionals can be widened when people participating in the legal process come from linguistic and cultural backgrounds that are different from those who speak the language of the court and are familiar with the culture in which the legal system is embedded. This paper discusses the participation of minority language speakers in the legal process, and some of the challenges that linguists face in trying to improve legal processes for minority language speakers. The following key aspects of communication are discussed: access to language assistance; quality of language assistance; attitudes towards minority language speakers; and intercultural issues. Drawing on the author’s own studies of interpreter-mediated police interviews and multilingualism in criminal courts, as well as other relevant studies, the paper presents linguistic analyses that elucidates problems in legal interaction involving minority language speakers and legal professionals.


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How to Cite

Nakane, I. (2016). Minority language speakers and disadvantage before the law: Challenges for applied linguistics. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 11(1), 9–29. https://doi.org/10.1558/lhs.v11i1.19060