Language in courtroom

Research Paper Topics and Guidelines
Requirements and Tips:
·         Your paper must be 5-7 pages long (double spaced; use a Times New Roman, 12 point font).
·         The paper should evaluate/analyze a legal issue from a language perspective.
·         Your paper must meet the standards of a college level paper, both in content and in terms of writing mechanics. Be sure to include a Works Cited section and to cite your sources properly in the text. (MLA or APA style are both fine.)
·         You must read at least 3 outside sources on your topic and cite them in your essay.
Topics (PICK ONE)
1. Closing Statements In a trial, closing statements are critically important. Your paper should address: what is the point of a closing statement? What makes a good closing statement? Find examples of closing statements (many are available on youtube). These can be from big cases in the media or small cases. Describe what the attorneys do and evaluate their closing statements based on what you know about how language works in the courtroom.


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Lief, M. S., Caldwell, H. M., & Bycel, B. (1999). Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Greatest closing arguments in modern law. Simon and Schuster.
Rosulek, L. F. (2014). Dueling discourses: The construction of reality in closing arguments. Oxford University Press.

2. Questioning techniques in the courtroom. Attorneys use questions in very specific ways in the courtroom in order to convince juries of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Read up on these questioning techniques and their effects. Then analyze examples of real courtroom questioning in light of what your sources report about the characteristics of courtroom questioning. You may also consider the techniques used in courts with children or other vulnerable witnesses or defendants. You must back up your analysis with relevant transcript examples.


Azucena, Rigney (1999). Questioning in interpreted testimony. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 6(1).
Danet, Brenda, and Nicole Kermish. “Courtroom questioning: A sociolinguistic perspective.” Psychology and persuasion in advocacy (1978): 412-41.
Penman, Robyn. “Discourse in courts: Cooperation, coercion, and coherence.” Discourse processes 10.3 (1987): 201-218.

3.       Language minorities and the legal system: What are the rights of language minorities in the courts and how does that work in reality? Describe and analyze what it takes to provide a person who does not speak English with a fair trial. Collect your own data about the difficulty of interpreting accurately in an actual conversation.  For instance, you may visit a court room and observe a case or interview a non-English speaking person who has had to deal with the American court system. You may also interview a person you know who is not a native English speakers and his/her experiences interacting with police or in the court room.

Conley and O’Barr, Just Words; Law, Language and Power. Chapter 9. also describes the challenges that court interpreters and the need for them.

Another one on the same subject with examples from Spanish:
Hale, Sandra. “How faithfully do court interpreters render the style of non-English speaking witnesses’ testimonies? A data-based study of Spanish—English bilingual proceedings.” Discourse Studies 4.1 (2002): 25-47.
Eades, Diana. “7. PARTICIPATION OF SECOND LANGUAGE AND SECOND DIALECT SPEAKERS IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 23 (2003): 113-133.

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