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Controlling Courtroom Discourse through Linguistic Manipulation: A Case Study of Criminal Trials at the Kibera Law Courts, Nairobi

This study undertook a critical analysis of linguistic manipulation and power disparities among discourse participants
in criminal trials at the Kibera Law Courts, and posited the view that the employment of manipulative techniques by
both legal professionals and unrepresented accused persons during hearings is a vital part of the courtroom discourse. The
study sought to examine how unequal distribution of power may be used to create an imbalance among court participants,
and to exemplify how control is achieved and challenged in the courtroom through linguistic manipulation. Specifically,
the study identified manipulative techniques employed by legal professionals to wield dominance and control in criminal
trials discussed manipulative strategies employed by lay defendants to achieve control during various segments of
criminal trials, and investigated how the power imbalance among court participants is reflected in their ability to employ
linguistic manipulation. To achieve these objectives, the study adopted a case study research design. The study adopted
both qualitative and quantitative research methods of data collection and data analysis. The data comprised 20 hours of
audio-recorded court proceedings of criminal trials heard between August and September 2016. Judgmental Sampling
was used to select instances of linguistic manipulation by court participants in the various segments of criminal trials.
Data were analyzed and coded using the SPSS Version 22 computer software to generate statistics on the frequency
of the occurrence of linguistic features. These statistical results formed the foundation of the discussion of the emerging
trends in the analysis chapters. The main theoretical framework informing the study was Critical Discourse Analysis
(CDA), which holds that a study of the micro-discourse structures such as lexical choices, syntactic form and pragmatic
interpretation in a given context leads to an understanding of the macro-discourse social structures such as power and
dominance. The findings of the present study established that both legal professionals and lay defendants employ such
linguistic manipulative techniques as “so”, summarizers, alternative questions, and interruption to exercise control and
dominance of the discourse in criminal trials at an almost equal level and despite their differences in legal knowledge. In
addition, it was established that power is not evenly distributed among court participants and that this power imbalance
is more prevalent among the officials of the court. The study recommends an undertaking of a similar study using video
recording so as to examine the paralinguistic features prevalent in courtroom discourse.
Key words | Critical discourse analysis, forensic linguistics, courtroom discourse, linguistic manipulation


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