Power Relations In Courtroom Language (A Case Study Of Sokoto State Magistrate Court)

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Power Relations In Courtroom Language (A Case Study Of Sokoto State Magistrate Court)

Chapter One


This project is on the power relation in courtroom language. Chapter one covers the general overview of the subject matter. It comprises the background to study, statement of research problems, aim and objective of the study, purpose of the study, significance of the study and scope and limitations.

1.1 Background of the Study

Language has been identified as the “primary medium of social control and power” Fairclough (1989) most notable in legal settings where language is used in away to facilitate control through the exercise of power. A person that wields power or influence anyone does it by the potency of language.

Language is central to human existence because human language is distinct and remarkable .The uniqueness of language which is ability to communicate is what Hickerson(1980)says makes possible most of the other behavior which we think of as uniquely human.

There have been many speculations as to the origin of language. There are three (3) sources that point to the origin of language. According to Yule (2003) they are; the divine sources, the natural source and the oral source.

The divine source is of the view that language came when Adam in the Bible was given the authority to name all living things. The theory also posits that there is a divine source that provides human beings with language. Few experiments have been carried out in an attempt to prove this with conflicting results. A quite different view on the beginning of human speech is based on the concept of the natural source. Scholars who hold this view are of the opinion that language came as a result of the imitation of the sounds around human. Sounds referred to the object associated with them. The oral gesture theory is yet another. It involves a link between physical gesture and orally produced sounds. It claims that originally, a set of physical gestures was developed as a means of communication.

All these are speculations that have not been proven. Language serves as the vehicle with which man dominates his environment. Man has the ability to use system of sounds in which symbols are related to each other i.e. Language and it is this language that man uses to carry out various activities. According to Edward Sapir (1921) language is a ‘’purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of a system of voluntarily produced symbol’’. By this definition, only humans possess language.

They make use of symbol; these symbols are auditory and are produced by some Speech organs.

Hall (1969) defines language as the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other by means of habitually used oral-auditory symbols.

This is similar to Gimson(1980) who defines language as ‘’a system of conventional signals for communicating by a whole community’. Language therefore is a means by which humans communicate in the society.

Human society cannot exist without language since language is purely a human activity and communication in itself is the essence of humanity.

Every language exists in a number of varieties. According to Hudson (1980; 24)

A variety is ‘’a set of linguistics items with similar distributions’’. Going by this definition, we can say that languages have varieties. We have language of politics, language of science, language of law, language of sports, language of technology, etc. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on the language of legalese and how it wields power. The law society has established norms and values that govern and pattern the behavior of its members and machinery for enforcing these is language. Language therefore plays an important role in law making, preservation and enforcement. Language of law connotes power and influence. Power as related to language is the measurement or the ability of an entity to control his environment, including the behavior of other entities. The exercise of power is accepted as endemic to human as social beings. It is a form of social control.

According to Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia, word ‘court’ comes from the rench word ‘cour’ an enclosed yard, which derives from the Latin form ‘cortem’ which also means an enclosed yard.

The meaning of a judiciary assembly is first attested to in the 12th century and derives from the earlier usage to designate a sovereign and his entourage, which meant to settle dispute in an enclosed yard. A court therefore is a form of tribunal, often a government institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law.

Courtrooms are thus, the central means for dispute resolution and it is generally understood that all persons have the ability to bring their claims before a court. English is the most widely used language in the world. It has become the most acceptable medium of communication among diverse tribes without a common language.

1.2 Statement of Research Problem

A lot of researches have been carried out on the language of law but not much has been done on its power relation. This research work is aimed at analyzing power relations in courtroom language and how this power is used between authorities in courtroom conversation. Courtroom conventions do not give room for the style and the form of language used by lay persons and this has an effect on their use of language and makes it difficult for understanding and comprehension of conversation. There is also power inequality among the legal professions themselves. The magistrate seems to wield more power and has the final say in the courtroom proceedings.

1.3 Aim and Objective

The aim of this study is to analyze how language is used as a symbol of power in courtroom interactions.

The objective is to describe the power relations that exist between the courtroom Participants, the lawyers and the accused for effective communication.

1.4 Significant of the Study

The significance of this research work is to show how power relations determine language use within the context of a courtroom and also how the contributions of the participants in the court proceedings show how much power they wield.

1.5 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research is to look at how figures in authority (judges) use language to express their dominance and also to request obedience and respect from those subordinate to them. To examine how power relations involved in the courtroom discuss.

1.6 Scope and Limitation of the Study

This research work seeks to add to the knowledge that probes into the peculiarity of language as used by the courtroom participants. This gives us an insight and interpretation of the linguistic utterance, the uses and abuses as used by the judges, lawyers and the commoners, who will in effect contribute to the changing needs of institutionally anchored function like those of the judges, lawyers, legislators or citizens.

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