Making a difference: critical linguistic analysis in a legal context

Malcolm Coulthard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the major problems for Critical Discourse Analysts is how to move on from their insightful critical analyses to successfully 'acting on the world in order to transform it'. This paper discusses, with detailed exemplification, some of the areas where linguists have moved beyond description to acting on and changing the world. Examples from three murder trials show how essential it is, in order to protect the rights of witnesses and defendants, to have audio records of significant interviews with police officers. The article moves on to discuss the potentially serious consequences of the many communicative problems inherent in legal/lay interaction and illustrates a few of the linguist-led improvements to important texts. Finally, the article turns to the problems of using linguistic data to try to determine the geographical origin of asylum seekers. The intention of the article is to act as a call to arms to linguists; it concludes with the observation that 'innumerable mountains remain for those with a critical linguistic perspective who would like to try to move one'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-186
Number of pages16
JournalPragmatics and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • asylum seekers
  • critical linguistics
  • forensic linguistics
  • legal linguistics
  • legal/lay interaction
  • police

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