Language Countertrading In Courtroom Exchanges in Nigeria: A Discursive Study

Tunde Opeibi


The view of discourse as serving transactional and interactional purposes cascades into practical realities in courtroom exchanges. As an institutional setting, the law courts exemplify a typical social domain where language provides the basis for conveying information; promoting meaningful and goal-directive social and interactional exchanges. Whether in civil or criminal litigations, the proceedings rely on linguistic facilities for accomplishing communicative actions. Language thus remains the sole ‘legal tender’ and the major instrument for prosecuting the cases and resolving conflicts brought before the courts.

This paper is motivated by the increasing but interesting challenges lay participants face in the courtrooms as they are confronted with language use that is different from their day-to-day experiences. The study discusses these peculiar communicative interactions in a law court in Lagos, Nigeria against the backdrop of very little efforts in courtroom discourse in non-native English speaking contexts.

Specifically, this paper focuses mainly on an aspect of courtroom discourse (i.e. examination-in-chief), a procedural questioning session which provides the basis for presenting the plaintiff’s arguments and information through the plaintiff’s counsel. The data used in this work were drawn from a civil suit filed in a Lagos High Court by a complainant in connection with a dispute on a property in central Lagos.

Using insights from discourse analysis and theoretical construct based on Genre Analysis (e.g. Hasan’s Generic Structure Potential) as well as other relevant constructs, the study analyses discourse features and strategies deployed by active participants in the proceedings.

The study finds that legal proceedings contextualized within a given L2 sociolinguistic and lingual-legal jurisdiction helps to project some of the peculiar features of a non-native English in legal domains. Apart from identifying some peculiar discourse patterns that are institutional-based, courtroom proceedings in this legal culture demonstrates discourse strategies that conflate with similar features in other jurisdictions. That only supports the belief of a common source for most legal systems with colonial experiences as well as the universal applicability of judicial decisions. The complex natures of legal texts that are highlighted merely corroborate previous works in this area. The study concludes by demonstrating how language is used to perform actions that are goal-directive in this domain using the Speech Act model.



Legal discourse, courtroom, discourse strategies, examination-in-chief, genre analysis, speech act, L2 context

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