Conference Agenda

PP-We-pm - S3 - 2: Parallel papers Wednesday afternoon
Wednesday, 03/Jul/2019:
4:00pm - 5:00pm

Session Chair: Bronwen Innes
Location: Seminar room 3
Storey Hall level 7


Emergency calls: Strategies used by emergency call takers to handle calls made by children

Fleur van der Houwen

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

In this exploratory study I use conversation analysis to investigate the strategies centralists use to handle emergency calls made by children in the ages between 3 and 8 years old. The data consist of 12 emergency calls made to 999 and 911 and which were posted on the internet. In all 12 calls the child is the caller and requests help for a parent who collapsed. All calls were successful in getting help to the person in need, which possibly was the reason they were posted on the internet. These calls hence appear to be instances of “good practice”. While there are various studies on emergency calls that examine aspects such as their sequential structure, aspects of gate keeping, emotions or opening sentences, calls made by children have received little attention. The aim of this study is to examine what strategies were used by the call takers that lead to a resolution of the emergency request. Initial findings suggest that call takers employ strategies such as adjusting their tone of voice, complimenting the caller, and keeping the caller engaged when they get distracted.

Legalese, meet linguistics

Janet Randall, Leah Butz, Abbie MacNeal, Rachel Smith, Samantha Bonnin, Ryan Semple, Julien Cherry, Yian Xu, Samantha Laureano, Marisa Snelson

Northeastern University, United States of America

Jury instructions are linguistically complex, so complex, in fact, that they can be impossible to understand, discouraging jurors from fully participating in trials and leading to misinformed verdicts. In a series of studies, we have shown that we can improve understanding by (1) presenting instructions in “Plain English”-- reducing passive verbs and “legalese”-- and (2) providing the texts for subjects to read while listening. Our first studies measured comprehension using true/false questions after each instruction, which gave subjects the chance to understand one before tackling the next. Jurors, however, do not get this time between instructions before having to correctly apply them in their deliberations.

Suppose we presented the instructions all together and then asked questions, giving subjects the same challenge as jurors. Would they understand even less? Our next studies did just that and, as predicted, the Plain English and texts still helped but comprehension dropped overall. Now consider this: according to 2013 Census data, half of Massachusetts’ adult citizens have not gone beyond 12th grade. To match the jury pool, our two current studies include subjects from a range of educational backgrounds. Again as predicted, these subjects’ comprehension scores are lower than undergraduates’ scores, but they benefitted more from the Plain English and texts.

Overall, our results show not only how difficult jury instructions are, but also how much more comprehensible they can become with two simple changes. If the judiciary applies these findings to improve courtroom practices, we will see better-informed verdicts and, ultimately, fairer trials.