A critical discourse analysis of language used in selected courts of law in Kenya

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Gatitu Kiguru
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This study undertook a critical analysis of power asymmetry among discourse participants in sampled Kenyan courts. Specifically, the study investigated the questioning and pragmatic strategies used by lawyers, police prosecutors and unrepresented accused persons during direct examination and cross examination phases of trial, as well as the use of various speech act functions and background contributions by the examiners. In addition, the study also looked at how witness responses exemplify how power and control are achieved and challenged in the courtroom through linguistic means. To study these objectives, the study adopted a descriptive design and, therefore, qualitative methods were used in sampling and data analysis. Purposeful sampling was used to select the three courtrooms where the study took place. The data consisted of 30 hours of audio-recorded court proceedings. The audio recordings featured 10 hours from each of the three courtrooms and these reflected five hours of trials with unrepresented defendants and five hour of trials with a defence counsel. To allow for analysis, the audio recordings were transcribed and the various language features coded. These coded data were analysed using the SPSS version 17 computer software to generate statistics on the frequencies of occurrence of the various language features. These statistical results formed the foundation of the discussion of emerging trends in the analysis chapters. The main theoretical framework informing the analysis of data was Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). CDA views discourse as a social practice that constitutes the social world and is constituted by other social practices. The theory holds that a study of the micro-discourse structures such as lexical choices and syntactic form in a given context leads to an understanding of the macro-discourse social structures such as power. The other theories that informed the study were Conversational Analysis and the Speech Act Theory. The thesis has four analysis chapters: chapter four focuses on question use by police prosecutors, counsel and pro se litigants; chapter five presents the findings on the use of pragmatic strategies by these discourse participants; chapter six deals with witness answer types, answer length and forms of witness resistance to control by examiners; chapter seven presents findings on the speech act functions and background contributions by examiners. From the analyses in these chapters it is established that evidentiary rules empower those who assume the examiner role by placing them in control of topic choice and change, and giving them the means to constrain the contributions of others. However, lay litigants are not always able to exploit the language and pragmatic resources available to the examiner. It also emerges that witnesses are powerless participants in courtroom discourse and are subjected to various forms of control by examiners. However, it is noted that witness use various strategies to resist this control. Chapter eight presents the summary of findings, conclusions and suggestions for further research and recommends various ways of mitigating the power imbalance in the courtroom.
A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy in applied linguistics in the school of humanities and social sciences of Kenyatta University October, 2014. KR 3114 .K5