Police interviews with child witnesses: pursuing a response with maar (= Dutch but )- prefaced questions


  • Guusje Annie Hubertine Jol Public Prosecutor’s office, The Hague
  • Fleur Van der Houwen Vrije University Amsterdam




police interviews, child witnesses, conversation analysis, but-prefaced questions, Dutch ‘maar’, pursuing a response


Recent research emphasizes the importance of how child-witnesses are interviewed. Studies have shown that children can give reliable testimony if interviewers comply with instructions such as avoiding suggestive questioning and not giving feedback on the child’s answers. Positive feedback suggests that there are right (and wrong) answers whereas negative feedback could urge children to change their answer. In this article we analyze questions that are prefaced by ‘maar’ (= Dutch ‘but’) questions that are often associated with disagreement and objection and might give negative feedback. Based on the analysis of seven police interviews with child-witnesses, we show 1) how these questions can treat a preceding answer as insufficient and how they project the need for another answer, and, 2) how these questions can differ a) to what extent they guide children to change their answer, b) in how they attribute responsibility for the insufficient answer to an inadequate question or to something else (e.g. the child’s attention), and c) in how much pressure they exercise.

Author Biographies

Guusje Annie Hubertine Jol, Public Prosecutor’s office, The Hague

Guusje Jol (LLM MA) is legal assistant at the public prosecutor’s office in the Netherlands. She is interested in institutional interaction, especially in the legal domain.

Fleur Van der Houwen, Vrije University Amsterdam

Fleur van der Houwen (PhD) is assistant professor at the Department of Language and Communication, VU University Amsterdam. Her research interest is in the area of institutional interaction between lay and professional participants.



How to Cite

Jol, G. A. H., & Van der Houwen, F. (2014). Police interviews with child witnesses: pursuing a response with maar (= Dutch but )- prefaced questions. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 21(1), 113–138. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.v21i1.113