Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Power in Interruption in Chinese Criminal Courtroom Discourse
Professor Liao Meizhen
Associate Dean, School of Foreign Languages
Huazhong Normal University
Date: 9 June 2010, Wednesday
Time: 4:30 - 6:00 pm
Venue: B4302 (Level 4, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU
Based on a corpus of transcripts of situated tape-recordings of 4 criminal courtroom trials in both lower and intermediate courts in recent years in Beijing and Wuhan, the present paper examines the phenomenon of interruption in Chinese criminal courtroom discourse as a par excellence example of institutional discourse in terms of interruption patterns, interruption positions, meta-interruptive speech acts and interruption functions, so as to reveal how power is exercised, more specifically how power imbalance is created in or through discourse. We have found that this imbalance exists in the following ways: (1) The judge or the prosecutor interrupts most and the defendant is the most interrupted; (2) Interruptions of the utterances of the defendant by the judge or the prosecutor predominantly take place in the beginning or the middle, while interruptions of the judge’s or the prosecutor’s utterances by the defendant mostly take place towards the end; (3) The judge or the prosecutor can successively interrupt the defendant and the reverse is seldom true; (4) When the judge or the prosecutor and the defendant interrupt each other, the interruption ends with the former interrupting the latter; (5) When the judge has to interrupt the prosecutor, she/he tends to use a meta-interruptive speech act which is least disruptive or rude; when she/he interrupts the defendant or the defense lawyer, she/he tends to adopt a meta-interruptive speech act which is a bit more disruptive or rude and (6) The judge or the prosecutor uses interruption to control the defendant in getting confession, to condemn or scold the defendant when they are not very cooperative, while most interruptions by the defendant are cooperative or efforts in continuing or finishing the floor.
Liao Meizhen obtained his Ph.D in linguistics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He is a professor of linguistics in the School of Foreign Languages, Huazhong Normal University and associate dean of the school. His academic interests include forensic linguistics, discourse pragmatics and discourse metaphor. His representative publications include “Metaphor as a Textual Strategy in English”, Text 19 (2), 1999, “A Study of Interruption in Chinese Criminal Courtroom Discourse”, Text & Talk, 29-2, 2009, A Study of Courtroom Questions, Responses and their Interaction, Law Press, Beijing, 2003, and Principle of Goal and Communication, Journal of Foreign Languages, 2009 (4&6). He is concurrently directing two Ph.D. programs, one in forensic linguistics in China University of Political Sciences and Law in Beijing and one in discourse pragmatics in Wuhan.