Epistemic Stance in Courtroom Interaction

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Janus Mortensen, Sune Sønderberg Mortensen

The oral examination of defendants and witnesses is a cornerstone in most criminal trials, where the weight and credibility of what is said and the certainty with which testimony is delivered will often be decisive for the ruling of the court. This chapter presents a case study of the linguistic construction of certainty and uncertainty – or epistemic stance taking – in Danish courtroom interaction. Based on transcribed audio recordings from a criminal trial in Denmark in 2014, we examine the ways in which the defendant, the alleged victim and an eyewitness construct epistemic stances during their examinations. The study combines a quantitative and a qualitative approach. In the first part of the chapter we develop a method that allows us to compare the epistemic expressions used by the three trial participants and the frequency with which the expressions are employed. In the second part we build on the quantitative findings by characterising and comparing the contextualised pragmatic functions of typical epistemic stances taken by two of the participants. Based on the analyses we argue that the trial participants may be said to adopt different epistemic stance styles, and we suggest that these styles may be motivated by pragmatic and rhetorical aims related to the individuals’ roles in the case.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPragmatics and Law : Practical and Theoretical Perspectives
EditorsAlessandro Capone, Francesca Poggi
Number of pages37
PublisherSpringer
Publication date2017
Pages401-437
ISBN (Print)9783319445991
ISBN (Electronic)9783319446011
Publication statusPublished - 2017
SeriesPerspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology
Volume10
ISSN2214-3807

ID: 170218287