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Just Words

Law, Language, and Power, Third Edition

Third Edition

Is it “just words” when a lawyer cross-examines a rape victim in the hopes of getting her to admit an interest in her attacker? Is it “just words” when the Supreme Court hands down a decision or when business people draw up a contract? In tackling the question of how an abstract entity exerts concrete power, Just Words focuses on what has become the central issue in law and language research: what language reveals about the nature of legal power. 

John M. Conley, William M. O'Barr, and Robin Conley Riner show how the microdynamics of the legal process and the largest questions of justice can be fruitfully explored through the field of linguistics. Each chapter covers a language-based approach to a different area of the law, from the cross-examinations of victims and witnesses to the inequities of divorce mediation. Combining analysis of common legal events with a broad range of scholarship on language and law, Just Words seeks the reality of power in the everyday practice and application of the law. As the only study of its type, the book is the definitive treatment of the topic and will be welcomed by students and specialists alike. This third edition brings this essential text up to date with new chapters on nonverbal, or “multimodal,” communication in legal settings and law, language, and race.

Read the first chapter.

264 pages | 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 1998, 2005, 2019

Chicago Series in Law and Society

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Law and Legal Studies: International Law

Table of Contents

Preface to the Third Edition
Preface to the Second Edition
Note on Transcript Conventions

1. The Politics of Law and the Science of Talk
Why We Wrote This Book
Basic Concepts: Language, Discourse, and Power
The Origins of Law and Language Research
Law and Society
Shortcomings of the Fields in Isolation
Conclusion: Combining Concerns

2. The Revictimization of Rape Victims
Rape and Power
Principles of Conversation Analysis
The Conversation Analysis of Rape Trials
Question Form
Topic Management
The Witness’s Capacity for Knowledge
Is It Really about Rape?
The Sexual Double Bind
Sexual History
Conclusion: Rape and the Power of Discourse

3. The Language of Mediation
What a Mediation Session Is Like
Restoring Civility
The Structure of Mediation
The Moral Order of Mediation
The Macrodiscourse of Mediation
The Microdiscourse of Mediation
Conclusion: Is Mediator Bias Systematic?

4. Speaking of Patriarchy
Gender and Equality
Stylistic Variation in Courtroom Talk
Powerlessness and Patriarchy
The Logic of Legal Accounts
The Rule-Oriented Account
The Relational Account
Conclusion: An Alternative Vision of Justice

5. A Natural History of Disputing
Naming, Blaming, and Claiming
A Language-Based Model of Naming and Blaming
The Claiming Process
What Happens When Disputes Reach the Legal System?
Transformation in the Small Claims Court
Transformation in the Lawyer’s Office
Reflections on Transformations
Conclusion: Toward a Natural History of Disputing

6. The Discourses of Law in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Questioning Huli Women
Goldman on Accident
Verb Forms and Accidents
Repairing Relationships in Weyewa
Conclusion: Has Legal Anthropology Missed the Point?

7. Language Ideology and the Law
Defining Terms
The Importance of Studying Language Ideology
The Power of Language Ideology in Legal Contexts
Language Ideologies in American Courts
Language Ideologies in Kenyan Divorce Courts

8. Forensic Linguistics
The Law of Expert Witnesses
Defining Forensic Linguistics
Tracking the Footprints of Linguistics in the Law
Elizabeth Loftus and Eyewitness Testimony
Roger Shuy’s Linguistic Battles
Forensic Linguistics and Power
Going Forward: A Linguistically Driven Forensic Linguistics

9. Multimodal Communication in the Courtroom
Defining Multimodality
Multimodal Aspects of Legal Interaction
Charles Goodwin: Ways of Seeing in the Rodney King Trial
Gregory Matoesian: Reproducing Rape through Multimodal Interaction
Robin Conley Riner: Multimodality and Capital Jury Decision-Making
Law, Language, and Multimodality

10. Language and Race in the Courtroom
The Relationship between Race and Language
AAVE in the Zimmerman Trial: The Prosecution’s Case (Rickford and King 2016)
AAVE in the Zimmerman Trial: The Defense’s Cross-Examination (Slobe 2016)
Pauses and Silence
Linguistic Profiling
Conclusion: Can Anything Be Done?

11. Conclusion
Where Does Legal Language Come From?
Learning How to Argue
How Do Lawyers Learn Legal Discourse?
Comparative Legal Discourse
Deconstructing Law Reform
Sociolinguists in the Legal World
Law and Society, Law and Language


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