When grammar clashes: Negotiation of guilt and innocence in courtroom discourse

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Adopting a functional view of language, this study critically explores clausal patterns in lawyers' opening address in an American criminal trial. Underpinned by the assumption that no linguistic options are value-free, the quantitative and qualitative analysis uncovers the syntactic choices employed by the opposing sides and accounts for them in terms of the presenters' ideological positions concerning the guilt and innocence of the defendant. The findings reveal stark differences between the two sides. Such systematic differences in clausal configurations not only constitute a prime meaning-making strategy that serves to construct polarized positioning of the same people and events, but are also likely to strike a profound impact with the jurors, potentially leading them to make tentative conclusions at this initial stage of case presentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-52
Number of pages26
JournalPoznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019 Mar 1


  • Courtroom discourse
  • grammatical patterns
  • ideology
  • opening address
  • transitivity


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