Questions in legal monologues: Fictive interaction as argumentative strategy in a murder trial

  • 1 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Abstract

In the adversarial legal system, talk-in-interaction is extremely fixed and regulated. Such rigidity motivates the emergence of what may be termed ‘fictive interaction’ (Pascual 2002). This constitutes a conceptual channel of communication underlying the observable interaction between participants. Regardless of its overt interactional structure (monologue, dialogue), I assume that Western courtroom communication typically involves an implicit trialogue between (i) the prosecution, (ii) the defense, and (iii) the judge/jury. The focus is on questions in legal monologues, which have barely been studied. Four complex instances of ‘fictive’ questions (and question–answer pairs) from a prosecutor’s closing argument and rebuttal are discussed: (i) a set of expository questions and answers; (ii) a subsequently answered rhetorical question; (iii) a clausal question used as a definition; and (iv) a word-level question characterizing the prosecutor’s own argument. These questions are argued to set up an interactional structure that maps the fictive trialogue underlying the discourse and overall situation of communication they occur in. They also show that fictive interaction can serve as an e¤ective argumentative strategy manifested at the discourse as well as the sentential and intra-sentential levels. This paper is based on fieldwork on a high-profile murder trial I observed in a California court in 2000.

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Text & Talk (founded as TEXT in 1981) is an internationally recognized forum for interdisciplinary research in language, discourse, and communication studies, focusing, among other things, on the situational and historical nature of text/talk production; the cognitive and sociocultural processes of language practice/action; and participant-based structures of meaning negotiation and multimodal alignment.

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