"Variable patterns of grammatical and ‘pseudo’ tag questions used by student attorneys in a mock trial”

Joon-Beom Chu

University of Arizona, United States of America


This paper examines the patterns of grammatical and “pseudo” tag questions used by student-attorneys in a mock trial classroom in a US law school. I analyze how student-attorneys use tag questions in their direct- and cross-examination of witnesses, and examine whether consistent discursive features accompany those patterns. I then discuss how these features are related to the institutional dynamics of a legal trial, where attorneys and witnesses discursively negotiate conflicting renditions of determinative "facts."

This paper focuses in particular on “pseudo-tags” (Lowndes 2003). Several scholars studying attorney-witness interaction in legal trials have labeled, as grammatical tags, tag-like structures that do not fall within the established grammatical parameters of a tag question. An example of such tag-like constructs, which attorneys frequently use in their interrogation of witnesses, include “is(n’t) that right?” These constructs follow stricter linguistic constraints than grammatical tag questions. For example, they must include the auxiliary “be”; the demonstrative pronouns “that,” “it,” or “this”; and a predicative adjective that expresses factuality, such as “correct,” “right,” “true,” “accurate,” “fair.” Because such pseudo-tags are rarely found in everyday conversation, the trial setting provides a unique opportunity to further explore their linguistic features and performative significance.

The paper examines the context and frequency in which student-attorneys use grammatical and pseudo tags in their cross- and direct-examination of witnesses and determine whether both tag forms serve similar performative objectives in a legal trial context. The observation of these performative patterns in a real-time institutional context raises new, compelling questions of how language use impacts the determination and distribution of power, justice and truth in contemporary US legal institutions. A related issue is the central role that US legal pedagogy plays in the reproduction and perpetuation of the institutional-linguistic status quo.


Lowndes, Sarah Elizabeth

2003 Barristers on Trial: Comprehension and Misapprehension in Courtroom Discourse. Ph.D. dissertation, School of English, The Queen’s University of Belfast.

Session: Paper session
Legal / (Public) Communication
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 18