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Language and Power

4. Language and the Law

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About this Lecture


In this module, we look at the law to explore the relationship between language and power, focusing in particular on: (i) the power imbalances in the courtroom, i.e. the fact that only certain people are permitted to ask questions; (ii) the use of questions to control answers; (iii) the concept of linguistic landscaping; (iv) the use of presuppositions in questions to assert information that cannot be easily denied (e.g. "When did you stop drinking at work?"); (v) the use of narratives in a legal context; and (vi) the police caution in England and Wales ("You do not have to say anything…") and the concept of the right to silence.

Reading list:
– J. Cotterill, 'Collocation, connotation, and courtroom semantics: Lawyers' control of witness testimony through lexical negotiation'. Applied Linguistics, 25(4) (2004), pp. 513-537
– C. Heffer, ''If you were standing in Marks and Spencers': narrativization and comprehension in the English summing-up' in J. Cotterill (ed.) Language in the Legal Process (2002), pp. 228-245
– J. Cotterill, 'Reading the rights: A cautionary tale of comprehension and comprehensibility', The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 7(1) (2000), pp. 4-25


In this course, Professor Annabelle Mooney (University of Roehampton) explores the relationship between language in power. In the first module, we explore the concept of speech acts and Jakobson's six functions of language. After that, we introduce three frameworks for analysing language and power, including Saussere's concept of the (bilateral) sign, Jakobson's concept of the axes of selection and combination, and the concept of constraints and affordances. In the third module, we think about the relationship between language and class and social capital, before turning in the fourth module to the relationship between language and power in the context of the law. In the fifth module, we think about the use of language – especially signs – in transforming spaces into places, before turning in the sixth module to consider some aspects of language and power in relation to money and economics, including the concept of cognitive metaphors and the reason that conspiracy theorists are so wedded to their ideas. Each module comes with a few suggestions for wider reading.


Annabelle Mooney is Professor of Language and Society at the University of Roehampton. Her research focuses on the language of waste and the language used by 'ordinary' people in order to better understand human culture, communication and relationships with the world. Her recent publications include The Language of Money: Proverbs and Practices (2018) and (as co-author) Language, Society and Power: An Introduction (2018).

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Mooney, A. (2022, April 11). Language and Power - Language and the Law [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mooney, A. "Language and Power – Language and the Law." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 11 Apr 2022,

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