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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78432 Find in a Library
Title: Power of Language - Presentational Style in the Courtroom
Journal: Duke Law Journal  Volume:1978  Dated:(1978)  Pages:1375-1399
Author(s): J M Conley; W M O'Barr; E A Lind
Date Published: 1978
Page Count: 25
Sponsoring Agency: National Science Foundation
Washington, DC 20550
Grant Number: GS-42742
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The speaking styles of actual courtroom witnesses were studied to determine the various testimony styles that occur frequently in trials, in view of evidence from nonlegal contexts that speaking styles are related to sociodemographic factors and that these styles influence listeners' impressions of speakers.
Abstract: All criminal trials in the Superior Court of Durhan County, N.C., during the summer of 1974 were tape recorded, yielding more than 150 hours of taped testimony and other courtroom speech. Observers trained both in anthropological field techniques and in the law made notes concerning the trials so that the tape recordings could be related easily to the context and general legal background of each trial. Analysis of speech styles and the social contexts with which they were correlated revealed a number of consistent linguistic patterns that appeared frequently in the observed testimony. The research focused on four of these patterns: (1) the use of 'powerful' and 'powerless' speech by witnesses, (2) the delivery of testimony in the 'narrative' and 'fragmented' styles, (3) the use of 'hypercorrect' speech by witnesses, and (4) the speech behavior of lawyers and witnesses in instances of simultaneous speech and interruptions in testimony. Experimental tapes were then constructed in which actors played the various roles and undergraduate students at the University of North Carolina rated their impressions of the speakers. Findings showed that listeners' impressions of witnesses and lawyers are influenced by the styles of speech used in testimony. Findings also indicated that judicial instructions and procedures are unlikely to solve this problem. Results indicated that pretrial coaching of speaking style can improve a witness's credibility and that relatively subtle variations in courtroom speaking styles can influence jurors' reactions and deliberations. The principles of equity, if not of constitutional law, require that the courts develop a more active response to the problem. Tables and 52 reference notes are provided.
Index Term(s): Behavioral science research; Jury decisionmaking; Perception; Psychological research; Testimony; Witnesses
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