Metapragmatics in a courtroom genre

Isolda E. Carranza

Abstract

Taking as a starting point a broad conception of metapragmatics (Lucy 1993), this study describes a wide range of reflexive elements in closing arguments of criminal trials, and on the basis of their habitual use by trial lawyers, it enquires about the general underlying function as part of the sociocultural practice (Bourdieu 1990). The corpus of was collected at twenty-two criminal trials observed and recorded by the researcher. Five kinds of metapragmatic indexes – from the maximally explicit to the implicit – are identified and analyzed in their interactional, situational and societal context: (1) performatives, which count as official acts by the trial lawyer, (2) formulations and other evaluations of speech, (3) descriptions of aspects of the sociocultural practice and allusions to the principles governing the event, (4) strategic descriptions of contextual conditions, which are exploited with group identity and relational effects, and (5) style. The analysis reveals that these metapragmatic features contextualize the communication as expressing a specific social capital, and at the same time, they contribute to define what does not count as legitimate practice. Apart from the specific effects of individual types of indexes, in closing arguments metapragmatic indexes basically function signaling that the social actor and the practice they are engaged in rightfully belong to the social field of the law.

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