Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Language, Literature, Culture and Education 2016

Language and Power in the Courtroom: Examining the Discourse in Philippine Rape Trials

Virna S.Villanueva

University of Santo Tomas


The language in the courtroom is described as comprehensible for the lawyers but complex for non-regular courtroom participants like the witnesses. Since cross-examinations are vital in providing evidence to courtroom investigations, analyzing the way examiners frame their questions and the way witnesses give their replies are of prime importance. Thus, this study investigated the courtroom discourse in rape trials, particularly the types of questions, replies and politeness strategies used in cross-examinations. The transcripts of stenographic notes served as the study corpus. Generally, critical discourse analysis was employed in analyzing the courtroom discourse while the classification of questions of Gibbons (2008) and Holt and Johnson (2010) was utilized in categorizing the questions; the categories of answers by Zajac et al. (2003) were used in classifying the replies of witnesses; and, the Politeness Theory of Brown and Levinson (1987) was used in identifying the politeness strategies by the lawyers and the witnesses. Findings reveal that some questions in cross-examinations are coercive and witnesses usually comply with the question or are restricted in giving explanations. In terms of politeness strategies, bald-on strategies monopolize the questioning techniques of lawyers while positive strategies dominate the replies of witnesses. Thus, the role of cross-examinations in providing evidence to courtroom investigations cannot be undermined. The language used in the courtroom might either strengthen or distort the evidence of witness, more particularly, vulnerable witnesses. Thus, it is important that witnesses be oriented to the rudiments of courtroom language investigation.


Cross-examination, critical discourse analysis, rape trial discourse

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