Barring the Unsound: Knowledge, Language, and Agency in the Evaluation of Law Students in Mock Trial Competitions
AdvisorMendoza-Denton, Norma C.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation explores verbal interactions in mock trial competitions at a US law school, in order to explore the ways that law students are taught the proper ways of speaking like advocates in adversarial speech settings. Learning to prevail in adversarial settings entails the use of conversational linguistic features whose primary function is pragmatic rather than referential. The proper use of these pragmatic markers enables lawyers to achieve desired effects in legal interaction and impression management, while maintaining intact the denotational content of their utterances. This dissertation examines in depth the feedback-mediated practices through which law students learn to use three prominent pragmatic markers in mock trials: tag questions, the declarative falling intonation, and using reported speech to cite legal authority. The metapragmatic discourses that constitute these practices socialize law students to use pragmatic markers in light of their ability to sway institutional decision-makers to favor their interpretation of the facts. The dissertation argues that these metapragmatic discourses articulate an institutional technology for the management of competing claims to propositional truth. How they justify the use of these pragmatic markers reveals, furthermore, that these technologies of truth are dialogic. Pragmatic markers allow legal advocates to project social voicing contrasts in adversarial settings, allowing them to associate the utterances of their courtroom rivals with the voice of dubious social characters, reducing the propositional value of their claims to truth. An analysis of metapragmatic discourses thus reveals the dialogic dimensions of the language of the law that relate language, agency, and power in the verbal constructions of institutional knowledge. It clarifies the ways that law students, as legal advocates, learn to incorporate broadly circulating ideologies of linguistic differentiation in their legal discourse.
Degree ProgramGraduate College