Forensic Linguistics



  • Terminology 
    • Translating: written text to written text 
    • Interpreting: spoken text to spoken text 
  • Legal Translators
    • Challenges
      • Names based on the system
        • Name in source language that may not exist in target language 
      • Everyday words 
        • Used with specialist meanings 
      • Language differences 
        • Lack of equivalence 
  • Interpreting in Legal Settings
    • Consecutive Interpreting: happens one after another, hear turn A and interpet it and so on
    • Simultaneous Interpeting: hears turn and then speak in different language at same time 
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  • Why get an interpreter? 
    • In the police station:
      • Difficulty understanding
      • Mutual comprehensibility
      • Wants an interpreter 
    • In court: 
      • 'Cannot understand or speak'
      • Need language of court in order to communicate 
  • Who can act as an intepreter? 
    • MOJ Framework Agreement 
    • National Register of Public Service Interpreters 
    • National Register of Communication Professionals Working with Deaf and Deafblind people 
    • Some languages are under represented 
  • Legal Interpreters need: 
    • Proficiency, common knowledge, professional codes, understand legal processes; language and discourse conventions of courts and police 
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Pressures on the Interpreter

  • Location
  • Conditions: practical
    • Might not get breaks, hear well, be able to have a drink 
  • Conditions: task related 
    • Might not be allowed to take notes, ask for clarification 
  • Real Time Pressures
    • Takes twice as long as monolingual case
  • Demands and Expectations
    • From court, want certain situations
  • The interpreter as conduit
    • Seen as piece of equipment 
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Do interpreters act on information?

  • Filter communication
    • Secondary context vs primary context 
    • Propositional content 
    • Question form 
    • DIscourse markers 
  • Deaf participants in the courtroom 
    • The bilingual, bimodal courtroom 
      • Bimodality 
      • Visual encoding 
    • Working across two modalities 
  • Question form
    • Low to high degree of control 
    • Wh- question: what happened then? which way did it point? 
    • Either-or questions: do you mean this side or the far side?
    • Yes-no questions: did you agree to buy it?
    • Declarative questions: you went there with the defendant in order to have sexual intercourse
    • Tag questions: you used her belt to strangle her did you not? 
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Australian Legal System

  • Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system 
    • Over representation: disproportionate number of people in prison vs in general population 
    • Racism
    • Injustice caused by linguistic and discoural features of the law - different language 
  • Successful adversarial system 
    • Courtroom culture 
      • Court personnel: knowledge individuals need in order to function
        • Language training 
        • Class
        • Predominant sex, ethnicity, religous orientations 
        • Typical age 
      • Different discourse styles
        • Turn taking 
        • Non-sequential topics 
        • Odd grammatical constructions
        • Odd vocabulary and expressions 
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Aboriginal English Continuum

  • Lighter (acrolectal) varieties 
    • No traditional language 
    • Not geographically remote
    • Not exposed to strong cultural variety of aboriginal 
  • Heavier (basilectal) varieties 
    • Traditional language 
    • Geographically remote 
    • Inflected by original language 
  • Aboriginal English
    • Varieties can seem the same but arent 
    • Aprroximate sounds which seem similar 
    • Struggle to pronounce certain sounds
    • Inflections missing 
    • Systematic differences between Aboriginal English and Standard Australian English
      • Phonology (sounds and accent)
      • Morpho-syntax (grammar)
      • Lexicon (vocabulary)
      • Discourse structures (connections between utterances/sentences)
      • Pragmatics (language used in context)
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Knowledge Economy

  • DIfferent to materialism of westernised world 
  • Have secret knowledge
  • Ceremonial initiation to gain language 
  • Gender 
    • Mens knowledge and womens knowledge 
  • Directness <-> Indirectness 
    • Directness is seen to be rude and inconsiderate 
  • Answering questions
    • Wont answer at times if secret knowledge 
  • 'I dont know' or 'I cant remember' 
  • Measurement Expressions
    • Time: based on physical, climate, social and geographical change
    • Distance: direction to environment 
    • Numbers: 2 or 3 names for numerals, hesitant use of numerals 
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Speech Styles

  • Open broadcast style (speaking out in social setting) 
    • Simultaneous speech 
    • Silence 
    • Ignoring others 
    • Eye contact 
    • No talk in twos 
  • Talk in twos 
    • Dyadic talk 
      • Talk is directed to a particular individual 
      • People should face eachother 
      • Eye contact is important 
      • Control by the speaker 
    • Non Dyadic talk 
      • Talk is broadcast 
      • People need not face eachother 
      • Eye contact is not important 
      • Control by the hearer 
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Hearing Loss

  • Main cause: otitis media (middle ear infection)
  • Northern territory roughly 1/2 of all Aboriginal children and 1/4 of adults 
  • Reasons for otitis media being more present in indigenous children:
    • Reduced access to healthcase 
    • Poor immune response to introduced infections 
    • Poor nutrition 
    • Overcrowded accomodation 
    • Inadequate domestic waste and sewage arrangements 
    • Lack of good quality water 
    • Polluted swimming holes 
    • Low health expectations
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Further Features

  • Narrative Structure 
    • Christie and Harris 1985
      • Different genetic structure 
      • Different narrative elements and structure 
  • Questioning 
    • Not the norm for aboriginals 
    • Less experience 
    • Less competence if any 
    • Learnt only in school 
      • Not personally relevant 
    • Either-or questions
      • Not used in aboriginal discourse, usually respond to last item or repeat last item 
  • Gratuitous Concurrence 
    • Most common aboriginal tendency to agree in response to a question asked by a white person, especially one in power, regardless of whether there is understanding of or agreement with the proposition 
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Use of Interpreters

  • Circumstances for use of interpreters 
    • Following a request for counsel
    • On the advice of coroners assistant 
    • If the interpreters presence is unchallenged 
    • At the witness' request
  • Alternatives to disadvantage 
    • Education, Liaison, Change 
    • The Anunga Rules - The Queen vs Anunga 1976 
      • Basic rights 
      • Interpreter - complete mutual understanding 
      • Improper methods 
      • Electronic recording 
      • Publicly funded interpreter service 
  • Role of the forensic linguist 
    • Prepare the public (especially minority groups) for courtroom language games 
    • Push for legal reform in communicative areas (police stations and courtrooms) 
    • Act as an expert witness in interpreting meaning of disputed words and discourse interactions 
    • Act as an interpreter (with necessary expertise)
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