A forensic linguistics study of the spoken courtroom language used in theft and burglary cases at the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court

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Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST)


Forensic Linguistics is the application of linguistics to legal issues. It is, rather, the application of linguistic knowledge to a particular social setting. It is an integral part of applied linguistics. Those who do this work analyse statutes, legal procedures, courtroom language, and language used as evidence in criminal and civil court cases. One major difference from other types of applied linguistics is that there is no need to gather data because it is already provided. This means that the linguist has to work with data that already exists, using the major tools of linguistics, including morphology (lexical),and syntax. Throughout the process, the forensic linguist, like any applied linguist, has to teach lawyers, judges, and public prosecutors the way linguistic analysis works in relation to the specific legal issues. This study analyses the nature of courtroom communication in a Namibian context in cases of alleged theft and burglary. The research investigated the language used by both court officials and lay persons during legal proceedings and examined the linguistic and socio-cultural factors that motivate the choice of certain linguistics features. This study employed qualitative method and data was collected through tape-recording and non-participant observation. The tape-recorded data were transcribed using transcribe. wreally.com. The data was than analysed using context, schema and frame theory. Findings of the study indicate that due to the fact that the lay people find it difficult in legal language comprehension they tend not to give unexpected answers during courtroom conversation. The finding reveals significance of this study to the legal community according to their respective duties. Moreover, the translators and interpreters can use this research to communicate with greater accuracy. Additionally, the power relation of the lawyers and magistrates during the court interactions might be intimidating to the witness which might result to confusion since the witness who are in this instance are ordinary lay people feel powerless. The data indicated that participants in courtroom interactions (especially the accused) use very polite and formal terms of address when addressing court officials especially the magistrate.


Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of English and Applied Linguistics at the Namibian University of Science and Technology.


Thesis - Namibia, Forensic linguistics, Courtroom language, Written language evidence, Ethics, Forensic phonetics, Voice analysis, Language, Linguistics, Legal system


Harupe, M. T. (2019). A forensic linguistics study of the spoken courtroom language used in theft and burglary cases at the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court [Master's thesis]. Namibia University of Science and Technology.