Linguistic Manipulations in Legal Discourse: Framing questions and ‘smuggling’ information*
Keywords:power, gender, child witnesses, rape victims, informaframes, ‘smuggling’ information
AbstractWith 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.
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