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Session Overview
PP-We-am - S3 -4: Parallel papers Wednesday morning
Wednesday, 03/Jul/2019:
11:00am - 1:00pm

Session Chair: Mel greenlee
Location: Seminar room 3
Storey Hall level 7

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English as ‘language of record' in the Vanuatu legal system

Cynthia Claire Schneider

University of New England, Australia

Vanuatu, Australia’s Pacific Island neighbour, has more than 100 indigenous languages and three official languages: English, French, and Bislama. Ostensibly the Vanuatu legal system takes an attitude of ‘easy multilingualism’, reflecting citizens’ familiarity with multilingual interactions. For example, Bislama is frequently heard in court. However, the de facto language of record is English, which few speak as an L1.

This situation has positive and negative impacts. There are practical benefits: English steps in where Bislama and indigenous languages lack precise legal terminology. Appeal Court judges, typically from Australia and New Zealand, understand English but not Bislama. A socially-constructed benefit is the air of ‘integrity’ and ‘professionalism’ that written English purportedly lends to the judiciary.

However, as in any situation where the standard variety sets the bar for ‘normalcy’, with variations considered an inferior deviation, the potential for inequality exists (see Angermeyer (2015: 5)). Since English is a second or third language for Vanuatu citizens (including lawyers and judges), its usage can trigger insecurity and cause miscommunication. Furthermore, evidentiary documents supplied in English can lead to misplaced assumptions about a witness’s ability to give oral testimony in English. Conversely, poorly-crafted English language material runs the risk of not being admitted into evidence.

This paper is based on interviews with lawyers, judges, and one interpreter from the Supreme Court and Magistrates Court of Vanuatu, and four months of observations of Vanuatu courtrooms.


Angermeyer, Philipp Sebastien. (2015). Speak English or What? Codeswitching and Interpreter Use in New York City Courts. Oxford: OUP.

Paper: Legal limitations within China’s minority language rights regime: a Zhuang case study

Alexandra Grey

University of Sydney, Australia

This paper presents 2013-2017 research on China’s constitutional language right to use and develop minority languages, and the legal instruments and state entities supporting it. The research takes a case study of Zhuang, the language of China’s largest minority. The analysis combines complementary legal and critical sociolinguistic lenses (following Bourdieu 1987, 1991), sitting within the ethnography of language policy literature. Legal instruments and policies were collected and multi-sited, ethnographically-oriented fieldwork undertaken (following Schein 2000:26-28).

This paper focuses on the legal nature of the right, and the role of the Guangxi Zhuangzu Autonomous Region’s government in elaborating and applying it. The paper analyses the limitations on the right given its nature as a ‘freedom’ and lack of actionability or enforcement mechanisms. Then it explores problems with responsibility for governing Zhuang being largely channelled – and restricted – to the autonomous region, finding there are significant legal limitations on that region’s power. A contrastive analysis of legislation protecting the national language (Putonghua) highlights the unequal position in law of minority languages and the national language. The paper concludes that the Zhuang language right has minimal impact, which the ethnographically-oriented, empirical side of the study bore out.

These legal issues are relevant to studies of language rights regimes in and beyond China.


Bourdieu (1987). The Force of Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field. The Hastings Law Journal, 38(July), 814-853.

(1991). Language and symbolic power. Polity Press.

Schein (2000). Minority rules; the Miao and the feminine in China's cultural politics. DUP.

Inside A Criminal Agreement: Examining the Language of Conspiracy in a Cybersex Crime in the Philippines

Phamela Marie Edralin

University of Santo Tomas, Philippines

As a criminal agreement (Marcus, 1977), conspiracy, both a language crime and an inchoate crime, has become an indictable offense in the United States. In the Philippines, however, conspiracy in general is not legally punishable unless the law specifically provides a penalty for the act as in treason, and sedition. Hence, this study investigated the language of conspiracy in an Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) case in the country in order to analyze the linguistic constituents present in the criminal process. 647 online exchanges culled from the National Bureau of Investigation-Cybercrime Division (NBI-CD) served as the corpus of the study. Following the inverted pyramid approach of Shuy (2011), this paper utilized Hyme’s (1972) notion of speech events, and Deictic Referencing with message topic as the primary unit of analysis. Open coding resulted in the discovery of 40 speech events including Solicitation, Planning, Instruction, Risk Assessment/Management, Updating, Progress Evaluation, Clarification of Concerns, Suggestion, Feedback, Elicitation of Money, and Fantasy Expression. On the other hand, four first person plural pronouns were also openly coded, namely you and I, we, us, and our, and the nature of their occurrences adds to the conspirators’ liability. This paper thus argue for the amendment of the conspiracy doctrine to incur criminal liability especially in cases of child pornography in the Philippines. Such amendment would pave way for the gradual decrease and eventual eradication of OSEC crimes in the country as it would entail that prospective conspirators may already be indicted upon proof of criminal agreement.

Indirect threats on trial

Tanya Karoli Christensen, Marie Bojsen-Møller

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

While threatening harm is well-established as a language crime within forensic linguistics (Fraser 1976, 1998; Harris 1984; Shuy 1993; Storey 1995; Gales 2010, 2011, 2015a, 2015b; Muschalik 2018), legislation does not always define this type of crime well enough for prosecutorial purposes. Indirect threats are particularly challenging to decide legally (Solan & Tiersma 2005: 204); especially in jurisdictions that refer to defendants’ intent (cf. the notion of ‘plausible deniability’; Pinker, Novak & Lee 2008).

For this study, we extracted 68 written messages that have been tried and convicted as threats in the Danish higher courts (2002-2018); the majority of which were indirect (75%). The trial judgments place great emphasis on the wider situational context—e.g. ancillary actions performed by the defendant—but the language of the messages is left undiscussed, despite consistent reference to their ‘frightening’ effects (a requirement in the Danish penal code, section 266).

A linguistic threat conveys the information that a harmful event, for which the threatener is responsible, will befall a victim (cf. Fraser 1998; Muschalik 2018: 181-182). Indirect threats leave out some of the defining characteristics, e.g. the type of harm or the threatener’s responsibility for it, and instead refer to one or more of the felicity conditions for a commissive speech act (Searle 2008 [1965]), such as the threatener’s control of the future event (Yamanaka 1995).

Focusing on both grammatical and lexical features, we show how the language used in our data attains frightening effects and thereby appears threatening, also in terms of the law.

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