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Dissertation Information for Gail Stygall

- Gail Stygall

- Ph.D.

- [No Discipline Recorded]

- Indiana University (USA) (1989)

- None

- None

MPACT Status: Incomplete - Not_Inspected

Title: Trial language: Contrasts in the discourse-processing of lawyers and jurors in an Indiana court

Abstract: Although sociolinguistic researchers have devoted considerable attention to social language variation, only rarely have they studied occupational languages systematically. Legal language is a natural prototype of these occupational languages, suitable for understanding how lay and legal observers comprehend legal language. I analyzed a single civil jury trial. My methodology was primarily ethnographic, using an elaborated model of discourse processing, a synthesis of the work of Teun van Dijk and Walter Kintsch, Erving Goffman, Roger Schank and Robert Abelson, William Labov, Deborah Schiffrin, George Lakoff, and Wallace Chafe.

It is well documented that lawyers and lay persons understand legal language differently; linguists and lawyers alike have traditionally located the problems of legal language in "jargon." My findings suggest that it is the processing of legal language, rather than the language itself, that causes differences. Lawyers' understanding and spoken language are significantly influenced by legal texts; in contrast, jurors use their own world- and discourse-knowledge to construct the meaning of the trial. At the trial's initial stage, lawyers process the discourse through a legal frame, while jurors process through a ritual frame. Ritual proves inadequate for the jurors in the next stage, and narrative is substituted. Lawyers maintain the legal frame, evidenced by their use of specialized genres identified by characteristic verb forms, by a distinction between law and facts, and by a model of coherence lacking ordering conventions. In the testimony stage, jurors instantiate scripts, while lawyers understand testimony to represent legal concepts. Certain categories of evidentials--belief, deduction, and hearsay--are restricted, increasing jurors' reliance on narrative. Jurors achieve closure in the final stage through narratives confirming the instantiated scripts, rejecting narratives controlled by legal concepts.

In the conclusion, I suggest that a theory of occupational language variation must be based on the recognition that these languages are semantic systems. Using criteria of mutual intelligibility and commensurability, I conclude that legal and common varieties of English are different linguistic and conceptual systems, a matter of serious consequence for legal theories assuming shared language.

MPACT Scores for Gail Stygall

A = 0
C = 2
A+C = 2
T = 0
G = 0
W = 0
TD = 0
TA = 0
calculated 2012-08-14 18:01:46

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Students under Gail Stygall

- None

- Ok nam Park - University of Washington, Seattle (2008)
- Kristene Unsworth - University of Washington, Seattle (2010)