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Module SXL-3026:
Forensic Linguistics in Court

Module Facts

Run by School of Law

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr John Olsson

Overall aims and purpose

This module focuses on established principles and theories of Linguistics as they apply to discourse which occurs in the court room, the use of forensic linguistics as an expertise, and the analysis of the different types of language which take place in the court room. The aim is to make law and criminology students aware of what is happening at the linguistic level.

Course content

The language of examination and cross-examination; the language of judge-lawyer communications; the language of judicial summaries; the language of voir dire; the language of expert witnesses; the language of opening and closing speeches to the jury.

Assessment Criteria


Needs to display a mastery of the specialised field of linguistic questions in relation to courtroom discourse and pragmatics to a level of having a systematic and structured knowledge of techniques, methodology and ways of appraising courtroom discourse techniques. Must be able to evaluate contributions of courtroom participants, research inventively and originally into these questions and be able to apply research knowledge to the task. An ability to evaluate scholarship in the field, in addition to showing a conceptual understanding of the field.


In addition to the above, needs to display an understanding of linguistic structures and their place within a system of communication with an awareness of current research trends in communication science generally and courtroom communication in particular. Ability to think about courtroom interaction and apply research knowledge to the task as well as being able to show comprehensive conceptual understanding of the scholarship in the field in addition to being able to evaluate it.


Displays ability to understand, within the context of having a specialised knowledge, the basics of discourse and pragmatics, and an awareness of the different types of courtroom communication. Ability to research and apply research knowledge to the task showing a developed understanding of the techniques used in courtroom discourse and an ability to understand and evaluate the scholarship in the field.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of how juries receive and understand communications from the different participants, viz, lawyers, witnesses, judges.

  2. Understand and analyse and evaluate the role of linguistic analysis in understanding court room procedures.

  3. Understand and analyse key concepts in court room language as used by the different parties and interest groups in achieving their communicative goals, e.g prosecutor cross-examination v defence cross-examination, etc.

  4. Analyse and evaluate how lay people react to language in the courtroom.

  5. Develop an understanding of the principles of discourse and pragmatics with examples from courtroom interaction. Gain knowledge of language in courtroom procedures.

  6. Gain knowledge of how lawyers are able to exploit language for particular communicative effects.

  7. Show an understanding of courtroom narrative.

  8. Develop an understanding of language and power in the courtroom.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Written assignment 100

Teaching and Learning Strategy


Seminars – one two-hour seminar weekly over 11 weeks

Private study 78

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Develop the ability to interpret legal rules and employ techniques of legal reasoning competently and efficiently in order to offer a range of solutions and conclusions to actual or hypothetical complex legal problems, all supported by relevant academic literature, jurisprudence and legislative research. Such solutions will be clearly communicated and presented
  • Develop the ability to analyse complex legal issues, set against the background of the political, social, economic or cultural contexts in which they may arise
  • Develop those skills which are necessary for scholarship and research in legal subjects, namely the ability to identify relevant primary and secondary legal sources and to retrieve accurate legal information using paper and electronic sources


Reading list

Coulthard, M. and A. Johnson. 2007. Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence. London: Routledge. Grant, T. 2013. TXT 4N6: Method, Consistency, and Distinctiveness In the Analysis of SMS Text Messages, 21 J. L. & Policy, Pp. 467-494. Olsson, J. 2004. Forensic Linguistics: An introduction to language, crime and the law. London: Continuum.

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: