Immigrant Voices in the Courts


  • Ann Wennerstrom



asylum, discourse analysis, narrative, judicial opinions, judicial decisions, immigration law


This is a study of how asylum seekers' persecution stories are represented in court opinions in the United States. The researcher analyzed the facts portions of ten asylum opinions in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Four linguistic analyses were conducted to compare renditions of the persecution narratives in winning versus losing cases. First, a breakdown of the narratives into component parts revealed that the overall organization was similar. Second, an analysis of quoted and reported speech showed that judges in winning cases chose more frequently to quote the applicant's own words. Third, an analysis of evaluative language demonstrated that the judges described the winning applicants' experiences in a highly positive light. The final analysis showed that winners' persecution events were portrayed as human-to-human interactions in which both victim and persecutor were personalized. Overall, judges appeared to recast the supposedly neutral persecution facts in a light that rationalized their decisions to grant asylum or to deport the applicant.

Author Biography

Ann Wennerstrom

Ann Wennerstrom teaches Applied Linguistics in the Department of English at the University of Washington. She is also pursuing a law degree at the same university, specializing in immigration law. Her books on discourse analysis include The Music of Everyday Speech (Oxford) and Discourse Analysis in the Language Classroom: Genres of Writing (University of Michigan Press).



How to Cite

Wennerstrom, A. (2008). Immigrant Voices in the Courts. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 15(1), 23–49.