Converting time reference in judges’ summations: a study in time reference management in a Creole continuum courtroom


  • Clive Roy Forrester York University



Jamaican Creole, courtroom discourse, discourse analysis, language and law, tense and aspect, time


When witnesses take the stand in court, they attempt, for the most part, to reduce the past experience of a crime to a story. This story is usually co-created and mediated by a lawyer via examination in chief or cross examination. What can potentially emerge as a result is a series of competing narratives – different, and sometimes contradictory, versions of the same story. Judges must somehow find a way to consolidate all the competing narratives inside the courtroom before arriving at the verdict, or, in juried cases, instruct the jury on how to arrive at a final decision. This article examines the techniques the judge uses to consolidate one particular detail - time. Since the linguistic situation in Jamaica is described as a Creole continuum moving between Jamaican Creole (JC) and Standard Jamaican English (SJE), judges have the complex task of navigating markedly distinct ways of representing time both lexically and grammatically. The study explains the tense conversion technique which judges in the Jamaican courtroom use when moving between the TMA (tense mood aspect) systems of JC (input during the trial) and SJE (output during the summation). The study reveals that some tense conversions in the summation may in fact be contrary to what was the intended meaning during the testimony and as such pose a problem for interpretation.

Author Biography

Clive Roy Forrester, York University

Clive Forrester did his PhD in linguistics at the University of the West Indies, Mona. His research interests include language and the law, discourse analysis, creole linguistics as well as the intersection between language and culture. He now lectures in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at York University where he has introduced two courses in Jamaican Creole in 2008.



How to Cite

Forrester, C. R. (2015). Converting time reference in judges’ summations: a study in time reference management in a Creole continuum courtroom. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 21(2), 225–250.