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Session Overview
Plenary 4: Dr Chris Heffer
Thursday, 04/Jul/2019:
9:30am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Georgina Heydon
Location: Green Brain Conference Rooms 1 and 2
Storey Hall, level 7

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KEYNOTE: Right Talk? Language, Ethics and the Legal Process

Chris Heffer

Cardiff University, United Kingdom

As forensic linguists, we are rightfully concerned with ethics: we identify practices we see as communicationally wrong and we want to make them right. However, we (perhaps understandably) tend to be reluctant to explicitly ascribe moral agency to speakers who perpetuate communicational malpractice in legal contexts. For example, police interrogation is wrong not because a police officer abuses his position of power but because US law permits the deliberate misleading of suspects. Cross-examination is wrong not because a particular cross-examiner is verbally violent but because cross-examination allows leading questions. In this talk I focus not on the structural conditions of discourse (crucial as those are) but on what it means to talk ethically right in evidence-relevant legal contexts.

I suggest that right talk in legal contexts should be both truthful (i.e. sincere and responsible) and civil (i.e. humble and polite). Of these key ethical terms, only politeness has been extensively developed in linguistics. After explaining my conception of truthfulness (Heffer in press) and civility, I outline discourse analytical frameworks for each of the other three concepts (sincerity, responsibility, humility) and show how each framework can be applied to a variety of different contexts in the legal process and can provide a useful ethical inflection to linguistic research into the legal process.

Heffer, C. (in press) TBC: Lying, Bullshit and the Analysis of Untruthfulness. New York: OUP.

NCA (2017) Credo for Ethical Communication. National Communication Association. Available at

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