Audience design in the police interview: the interactional and judicial consequences of audience orientation

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Police-suspect interviews in England & Wales are a multi-audience, multi-purpose, transcontextual mode of discourse. They are conducted as part of the initial investigation into a crime, but are subsequently recontextualised through the judicial process, ultimately being presented in court as evidence against the interviewee. The communicative challenges posed by multiple future audiences are investigated by applying Bell’s (1984) audience design model to the police interview, and the resulting "poor fit" demonstrates why this context is discursively counter-intuitive to participants. Further, data analysis indicates that interviewer and interviewee, although ostensibly addressing each other, may orientate to different audiences, with potentially serious consequences.
As well as providing new insight into police-suspect interview interaction, this article seeks to extend understanding of the influence of audience on interaction at the discourse level, and to contribute to the development of theoretical models for contexts with multiple or asynchronous audiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-69
Number of pages25
JournalLanguage in Society
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

Bibliographical note

The paper has been accepted for publication and will appear in a revised form, subsequent editorial input by Cambridge University Press, in Language in Society published by Cambridge University Press. © Cambridge University Press.


  • audience design
  • police interviews
  • forensic linguistics


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