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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2017, Issue 216


“Is it the case that … ?”: Building toward findings of fact in Japanese criminal trials

Ikuko Nakane
Published Online: 2017-04-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0078


This article explores the adversarial nature of Japanese criminal court proceedings by analyzing functions of the questions with X to iu koto ga arimasu ka? (‘Is it the case that X took place?’), based on courtroom discourse data and trial manuals for legal professionals. To discuss the roles of lawyers’ questions with the projection with the frame “Is it the case that … ?” in witness examination, the projection’s ideational, textual and interpersonal functions are analyzed drawing on Halliday’s systemic functional approach to discourse. By analyzing sequential roles of the projection, the article highlights the ways in which it serves as a story-construction device, as well as a signpost marker towards exposing inconsistency in witness’s testimony. The analysis also reveals that the dual ideational meanings of the projection – one everyday and the other technical – may leave lay participants unaware of its legal purposes, thus creating a potentially problematic lay-professional communication gap. The discussion of the interpersonal aspect suggests the projection’s role to neutralize coercive force of leading questions as well as to index an identity of legal authority. The paper concludes that while projection “Is it the case … ?” seems to symbolize the adversarial nature of Japanese criminal trials, its neutralizing effect and arbitrariness in use also imply the pseudo-adversarial and hybrid orientation.

Keywords: Japanese criminal trials; narrative construction; courtroom examination; projections


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Legal references

  • Keeij Soshoo Kisoku [Rules of Criminal Procedure] Article 199 (Japan).

  • Keeji Soshoohoo [Code of Criminal Procedure] Article 281 (Japan).

About the article

Published Online: 2017-04-20

Published in Print: 2017-05-24

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2017, Issue 216, Pages 423–450, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0078.

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