Linguistic issues often arise in Jamaican courtrooms, says visiting scholar

Visiting scholar Professor Clive Forrester will discuss the linguistic and discourse issues that often arise when a lay witness takes the stand in a Jamaican courtroom in a talk today, part of York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics Lecture Series in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics.

Forrester’s lecture, "Interpretation on Trial: Linguistic Issues Inside the Jamaican Courtroom”, will take place at 5pm today in S562 Ross Building, Keele campus.

A visiting linguistic scholar at York, Forrester is also a professor at The University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. He says there is no shortage of researchers who demonstrate that when cultural minorities enter the courtroom space communicative problems are likely to arise. The communicative problems can be divided into two broad categories – linguistic and discourse related.

Linguistic problems may include, but are not limited to, the types of problems which arise when a defendant or witness does not speak the language of the courtroom and an interpreter is required. Discourse related issues are of the type which occur when the defendant or witness is unfamiliar with the communicative norms inside the courtroom, such as the rigid question-and-answer format.

There are some courtroom scenarios, however, where defendants and witnesses encounter both linguistic and discourse problems and the Jamaican courtroom is one such space, says Forrester. “This paper seeks to explore the types of communicative problems which are likely to arise inside the Jamaican courtroom when the lay witness takes the stand.”

The paper uses three important elements as a background to the discussion, the linguistic and discourse reality of the average defendant inside the courtroom; an ignorance of this situation; and how the complex system of courtroom interaction magnifies the problem.

“Several examples of potential misinterpretation are highlighted from actual court transcripts and the extent to which these ultimately form a part of the final verdict is explored,” he says.

A small reception in the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics lounge will follow the presentation. All are welcome.

For more information, visit the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics Event’s page.