The metapragmatics of legal advice communication in the field of immigration law

Marie Jacobs


Metapragmatic comments are crucial in lawyers’ attempts at managing legal advice communication with asylum seekers. Drawing on linguistic-ethnographic fieldwork in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, this paper aims to demonstrate how/when/why textual features which tell interactants how to interpret the ongoing speech are used in the context of lawyer-client communication in the field of immigration law. The data analysis reveals how lawyers frame the discursive conditions (i.e. linguistic diversity, the institutional need for efficiency and the presence of emotional lifeworld concerns) of the local interaction in the lawyer’s office. This is necessary as clients are not always acquainted with the discursive routines of the legal consultation, nor aware of its position within the wider chain of discursive asylum events. As many aspects of the legal advice context resemble the interactional conditions of the government-asylum seeker communication, it proves key yet challenging for lawyers to metapragmatically signal their advocating role in a way that enables a relationship of rapport with their client.

Publication history
Table of contents

Legal advice communication in the context of immigration law is a discursively complex endeavour. When asylum seekers arrive in Belgium and apply for international protection, they are appointed a pro bono lawyer to support them throughout the whole procedure. Most meetings between lawyers and asylum seekers are of a multilingual and intercultural nature, defined by the disclosure of sensitive topics and constrained by workplace limits of time and resources. Metapragmatic framing is highly important in such legal consultations, as lawyers try to manage the local lawyer-client communication, while also providing the asylum seeker with discursive advice on how to manage their linguistic resources when communicating with the asylum authorities. As many aspects of the legal advice context resemble the interactional conditions of the government-asylum seeker communication, it is key yet challenging for lawyers to metapragmatically frame their advocating role in a way that enables a relationship of rapport with their client.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Ahmad, Muneer
2007 “Interpreting Communities: Lawyering across Language Difference.” UCLA Law Review 54: 999–1086.Google Scholar
Asylum Information Database
Barkai, John, and Virginia Fine
1982 “Empathy Training for Lawyers and Law Students.” Southwestern University Law Review 13: 505–530.Google Scholar
Bateson, Gregory
1972Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Balantine.Google Scholar
Blommaert, Jan, James Collins, and Stef Slembrouck
2005 “Spaces of Multilingualism.” Language & Communication 25 (3): 197–216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Bohmer, Carol, and Amy Shuman
2007Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century. London: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Caffi, Claudia
1998 “Metapragmatics.” In Concise Encyclopedia of Pragmatics, ed. By Jacob Mey, 581–586. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
Cochran, Robert, John DiPippa, and Martha Peters
2011The Counselor-at-law: A Collaborative Approach to Client Interviewing and Counseling. New York: LexisNexis.Google Scholar
Copland, Fiona, and Angela Creese
2015Linguistic Ethnography: Collecting, Analysing and Presenting Data. London: SAGE. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dahlvik, Julia
2018Inside Asylum Bureaucracy: Organizing Refugee Status Determination in Austria. Vienna: Springer Open. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dhondt, Benoit
2021Kinderen in een migratiecontext. Reflecties uit de praktijk [Sessie 1: Recht]. Retrieved from CESSMIR.Google Scholar
Eades, Diana
2010Sociolinguistics and the Legal Process. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
2014Handbook on European Law relating to Asylum, Borders and Immigration. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.Google Scholar
Fraser, Bruce
1996 “Pragmatic Markers.” Pragmatics 6 (2): 167–190. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Gill, Nick
2016Nothing Personal? Geographies of Governing and Activism in the British Asylum System. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Goffman, Erving
1981Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Grice, Paul
1975Logic and Conversation. In Syntax and Semantics: Speech Arts, ed. By Peter Cole, and Jerry Morgan, 41–58. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Gumperz, John
1992 “Contextualization and Understanding.” In Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, ed. by Alessandro Duranti, and Charles Goodwin, 229–252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Habermas, Jürgen
1984Was heißt Universalpragmatik? Vorstudien und Ergänzungen zur Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
Hambly, Jessica
2019 “Interactions and Identities in UK Asylum Appeals: Lawyers and Law in a Quasilegal Setting.” In Asylum Determination in Europe, ed. by Nick Gill, and Anthony Good, 195–218. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hübler, Axel, and Wolfram Bublitz
2007 “Introducing Metapragmatics in Use.” In Metapragmatics in Use, ed. by Wolfram Bublitz and Axel Hübler, 1–26. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hübler, Axel
2011 “Metapragmatics.” In Foundations of Pragmatics, ed. by Wolfram Bublitz, and Neal Norrick, 107–136. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Inghilleri, Moira, and Katrijn Maryns
2019 “Asylum.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, ed. by Mona Baker, and Gabriela Saldanha, 22–27. London: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Jacobs, Marie, and Katrijn Maryns
2021 “Managing Narratives, Managing Identities: Language and Credibility in Legal Consultations with Asylum Seekers.” Language in Society, 1–28. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Janney, Richard
2007 “ ‘So your Story Now is that ...’: Metapragmatic Framing Strategies in Courtroom Interrogation.” In Metapragmatics in Use, ed. by Wolfram Bublitz, and Axel Hübler, 223–235. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Jakobson, Roman
1985 “Metalanguage as a Linguistic Problem.” In Selected Writings VII, ed. by Stephen Rudy, and Linda Waugh, 113–121. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Jubany, Olga
2011 “Constructing Truths in a Culture of Disbelief: Understanding Asylum Screening from Within.” International Sociology 26 (1): 74–94. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Katzmann, Robert
2008 “The Legal Profession and the Unmet Needs of the Immigrant Poor.” Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 21: 3–30.Google Scholar
Lucy, John
1993Reflexive Language: Reported Speech and Metapragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Maryns, Katrijn
2006The Asylum Speaker: Language in the Belgian Asylum Procedure. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Maryns, Katrijn, and Marie Jacobs
2021 “Data Constitution and Engagement with the Field of Asylum and Migration.” Journal of Pragmatics 178: 146–158. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Östman, Jan-Ola, Jef Verschueren, and Eline Versluys
2007Handbook of Pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Penz, Hermine
2007 “Building Common Ground through Metapragmatic Comments in International Project Work.” In Metapragmatics in Use, ed. by Wolfram Bublitz, and Axel Hübler, 263–293. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Rampton, Ben, Karin Tusting, Janet Maybin, Richard Barwell, Angela Creese, and Lytra Vally
2004UK Linguistic Ethnography: A Discussion Paper. Online: https:​==drive​.google​.com​=file​=d​=0B5slLqugzxccmJ4TmlTblhsazA​=view
Reynolds, Judith
2020 “Investigating the Language-Culture nexus in Refugee Legal Advice Meetings.” Multilingua 39 (4): 395–429. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Severijns, Ralph
2019Zoeken naar zekerheid. Een onderzoek naar de vaststelling van feiten door hoor-en beslismedewerkers van de Immigratie-en Naturalisatiedienst in de Nederlandse asielprocedure. Deventer: Wolters Kluwer.Google Scholar
Silverstein, Mark
1993 “Metapragmatic Discourse and Metapragmatic Function.” In Reflexive Language. Reported Speech and Metapragmatics, ed. by John Lucy, 33–58. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Smith-Khan, Laura
2020 “Migration Practitioners’ Roles in Communicating Credible Refugee Claims.” Alternative Law Journal 45 (2): 119–124. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Verschueren, Jef
2000 “Notes on the Role of Metapragmatic Awareness in Language Use.” Pragmatics 10 ( 4 ): 439–456. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Westaby, Chalen, and Emma Jones
2018 “Empathy: An Essential Element of Legal Practice or ‘Never the Twain Shall Meet’?International Journal of the Legal Profession 25(1): 107–124. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Zwier, Paul, and Ann Hamric
1996 “The Ethics of Care and Reimagining the Lawyer-Client Relationship.” Journal of Contemporary Law 22: 383–434.Google Scholar