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The Language of Defendants in the 17 th -Century English Courtroom

A Socio-Pragmatic Analysis of the Prisoners’ Interactional Role and Representation

Elisabetta Cecconi

This volume analyses the defence system in the 17 th -century English courtroom and sees how defendants attempted to construct their discourse identity and articulate their defence in the arraignment section and in the evidence phase of the trial. Drawing upon theories from socio-pragmatics and (critical) discourse analysis the book investigates the complex face-work dynamics operating between defendants and professionals/witnesses, the main defence strategies adopted in the evidence phase and – at the author-readership discourse level – the way in which Royalist defendants were represented in Royalist accounts in the turbulent years of the Civil War. The author draws on a rich variety of trial texts: from high treason to religious subversion, from murder to felony and misdemeanour. In each case the defendant’s discourse behaviour is scrutinised in relation to historical, socio-cultural and institutional variables.
In its double focus on the defendants’ interactional role in the trial and their representation in Royalist accounts, the book offers a valuable reading for historical courtroom linguists, legal historians and researchers in the field of language, ideology and political propaganda in the early modern period.


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Part one - The interactional role of defendants in 17th-century trial texts


Part one The interactional role of defendants in 17th-century trial texts Chapter 2 Defendants and professionals: verbal duelling in the arraignment section4 2.1 Object and aims of the analysis Trial proceedings begin with the reading of the charge to the de- fendant who is then called and ordered to plead. This introduc- tory phase of the trial is known as the arraignment section and consists of a protocol of adjacency pairs where the judge requires prisoners first to answer to their charge and second to state by which authority they will be tried. The preferred seconds expected from the defendants are institutionally fixed: either “guilty” or “not guilty” (to the former require) and “By God and the Coun- try”, meaning the jury (to the latter). This apparently simple and linear procedure was not immune from objections and disputes in the 17th century. Coke CJ, writing in 1628, observed that “more jangling and questions grow upon the manner of pleading, and exceptions to form, than upon the matter itself, and infinite causes [are] lost or delayed for want of good pleading” (Baker 1990: 102). There were cases in fact in which prisoners deliberately deviated from normative behaviour and ven- tured into a set of dispreferred seconds in the form of requests and – to a lesser extent – requires. The pragmatic distinction between requests and requires was first drawn by Archer (2005, 2006). In 4 This chapter is a revised and extended version of an article of mine entitled “Power confrontation and verbal...

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