The constructed voice in courtroom cross-examination


  • Marta Baffy Georgetown University Law Center
  • Alexandria Marsters Georgetown University



courtroom discourse, constructed dialogue, reported speech, cross-examination


This article examines the evidential and evaluative functions of ‘constructed dialogue’ (Tannen 1989), also called direct reported speech, in the cross-examination of two defendants in a US civil suit. The lawsuit is brought against two detention officers who were on duty when the plaintiff’s husband, an inmate at a prison, died from meningitis. The plaintiff’s attorney constructs the dialogue of the defendants in an ‘alternate reality’ to suggest what the defendants should have done but failed to do to help, thereby providing evidence for his argument that the defendants acted unreasonably and inviting the jury to evaluate the defendants’ conduct as indifferent and blameworthy. The attorney also imputes dialogue to the defendants and other individuals involved in the case, again providing evidence for his claims and leading the jury to evaluate the defendants’ conduct as morally reprehensible and legally culpable.

Author Biographies

Marta Baffy, Georgetown University Law Center

Marta Baffy is a Ph.D. candidate in sociolinguistics at Georgetown University and a Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a member of the Massachusetts Bar. Her research interests include legal discourse in court and the legal classroom, and in particular the socialization of international law students into the culture of U.S. law school.

Alexandria Marsters, Georgetown University

Alexandria Marsters is a Ph.D. candidate in sociolinguistics at Georgetown University. Her primary area of research interest is forensic linguistics, especially in linguistic profiling, authorship attribution, and threat assessment.


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How to Cite

Baffy, M., & Marsters, A. (2015). The constructed voice in courtroom cross-examination. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 22(2), 143–165.