Linguistic Manipulations in Legal Discourse: Framing questions and ‘smuggling’ information*


  • Michelle Aldridge
  • June Luchjenbroers



power, gender, child witnesses, rape victims, informaframes, ‘smuggling’ information


With an emphasis on the linguistic experiences of sexual-assault witnesses in the British legal system (adult rape victims and child abuse victims), this paper is a consideration of how the lexical choices in the questions posed to a witness encourage a particular perception of her testimony. The concepts to be discussed include conceptual frames and smuggling information, and we offer a qualitative consideration of how the semantic features of a lawyer’s lexical choices can support a representation of either the witness or her experiences that is not in her interests. The appropriateness of a lawyer’s chosen frame is of key importance to ‘smuggling information’, a term used when a lawyer’s question inserts (negative) information into a witness’s testimony through suggestion. We look at how such linguistic manipulations can weaken a witness’s account by suggesting that she is to blame, and/or is lying or perhaps has simply misunderstood the situation. Our analysis offers an explanation as to why vulnerable witnesses may not be believed in court.

Author Biographies

Michelle Aldridge

MICHELLE ALDRIDGE received her PhD from the University of Wales, Bangor in 1989 and joined the forensic linguistics team at Cardiff in 2002. Her research interests also include child language acquisition and communication disorders. Her particular expertise is in the linguistic experiences of vulnerable witnesses in police interview and court contexts; as well as the training of professionals within the legal setting.

June Luchjenbroers

JUNE LUCHJENBROERS is with the Dept of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Wales at Bangor. Her research falls within the theoretical approach of Cognitive Linguistics and the contexts of her research include oral narratives; legal transcripts; media, Internet, and video-taped conversational data. Current research involves analyses of manipulative discourse, focusing on those in less powerful positions, such as women and children



How to Cite

Aldridge, M., & Luchjenbroers, J. (2007). Linguistic Manipulations in Legal Discourse: Framing questions and ‘smuggling’ information*. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 14(1), 85–107.