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Interacting with the Expert Witness: Courtroom Epistemics Under a Discourse Analyst’s Lens

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Abstract

This chapter looks at the interactional behaviour of expert witnesses and counsel acting within the adversarial trial’s constraints. Adopting a discourse-analytic perspective, the chapter demonstrates what stances the expert witnesses and the counsel adopt and what interactional resources they employ to position themselves vis-à-vis their interactants and their knowledge claims. Drawing on such linguistic concepts as speaker commitment, epistemicity and evidentiality, the chapter examines how expert knowledge is claimed, disclaimed, attributed and contested. The chapter specifically considers the interplay of the pronouns I, you and we with verbal markers of experiential, cognitive and communicative stance (Marín-Arrese, Commitment and subjectivity in the discourse of a judicial inquiry. In R. Salkie, P. Busuttil, & J. van der Auwera (Eds.), Modality in English (pp. 237–268). Mouton de Gruyter, 2009) as well as negation. The analysis reveals a correlation between the participants’ roles and communicative goals and the type of stance they adopt during testimony. It thus demonstrates the discursive processes of turning facts and expert opinions into evidence and explains how legal truth is constructed in courtroom proceedings.

Keywords

  • Adversarial trial
  • Courtroom talk
  • Epistemicity
  • Evidentiality
  • Expert testimony
  • Expert witness
  • Interactional patterns
  • Speaker commitment
  • Stance
  • Trial discourse

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In recent scholarship, identity is no longer regarded as something that people are, but rather as something that they perform using language (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005). This issue applies to professional identity as well, which, on the one hand, concerns an individual’s self-concept (it is cognitive) and, on the other, the profession’s collective identity, which is co-constructed through a shared repertoire of resources including specific vocabulary and routines (it is social) (Clarke & Kredens, 2018, p. 82 drawing on Angouri & Marra, 2011 and Li & Ran, 2016).

  2. 2.

    From a legal perspective, an expert is someone who ʻis recognised as having a special competence to draw inferences from evidence within a certain domainʼ, and whose competence ʻtypically derives from access to a large body of evidence and from socialisation into specialised ways of perceiving and reasoning about evidence of that kindʼ (Ward, 2017, p. 263).

  3. 3.

    Forensic linguists’ reports of their own experience of providing expert evidence can be found, for example, in Shuy (1993, 2006) and Coulthard (2005, 2020).

  4. 4.

    For a discussion about the distribution of knowledge and expertise in institutional talk involving multiple professional voices, see Linell (1998).

  5. 5.

    However, the usefulness of this ʻunwarranted theoretical constructʼ has been questioned by Lymer et al. (2017).

  6. 6.

    ʻ(…) if we agree that you have greater authority and/or more rights than I do, then we have achieved epistemic primacy congruence (…). Conversely, if we disagree over who has greater authority and/or more rights, then we are in an epistemically incongruent situationʼ (Stivers et al., 2011, p. 16).

  7. 7.

    It has also been noted that the I don’t know response, which can ʻstand for a variety of states of knowledgeʼ, reduces the witness’s credibility (Brennan, 1994, p. 207), especially in the cross-examination of children who are unaccustomed to the ʻstrange languageʼ used in court.

  8. 8.

    The trial transcripts were downloaded from https://www.unposted.com (date of last access: 3 March 2020).

  9. 9.

    This excludes from the analysis implicit/opaque personal/shared responsibility markers (such as perhaps, it seems, it was noted) and limits its scope to explicit personal/shared markers.

  10. 10.

    To see the multifunctionality and meaning potentials of selected discourse markers (or pragmatic markers/particles), go to, for example, Aijmer (2013).

  11. 11.

    The letters W and C refer to the expert witness and the counsel, respectively.

  12. 12.

    For a discussion of the progressive of mental and communication verbs in courtroom talk, see Szczyrbak (2021).

  13. 13.

    For a discussion of the trial as a complex genre, see Heffer (2005) and, in particular, the description of participant roles in witness examination (Heffer, 2005, pp. 47–50).

  14. 14.

    Question tags have a built-in bias towards one answer, and they ʻtypically seek confirmation of the speaker’s point of viewʼ (Biber et al., 1999, p. 1113). In the words of Gibbons, they are ʻstrengthening devicesʼ which place ʻa degree of pressure for agreement upon the interlocutorʼ and which are more coercive than simple polar questions (2005, p. 101).

  15. 15.

    For the relation between question type and coerciveness, see Berk-Seligson (1999, p. 36).

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Szczyrbak, M. (2022). Interacting with the Expert Witness: Courtroom Epistemics Under a Discourse Analyst’s Lens. In: Guillén-Nieto, V., Stein, D. (eds) Language as Evidence. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-84330-4_5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-84330-4_5

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