February 26th — Jessi Fraser: The role of hypothetical speech in identity construction in closing arguments

The primary purpose of closing arguments is to allow the attorneys one final chance to persuade the jury that their version of events and people is the most believable in order to obtain a verdict that supports their side. Identity construction is an integral part of this persuasive process. Attorneys use a number of different linguistic features in order to accomplish this identity construction. One predominate feature found in my data is reported speech. It is used by both prosecution and defense attorneys as a way to convey particular aspects of a social actor’s character.
The subset of reported speech that I will be focusing on in my talk is hypothetical speech or speech that did not occur but could have or should have (Myers 1999: 387). This hypothetical speech lends a sense of realism to a particular story and can be used to highlight character traits that are important to an attorney’s version of events. I will be discussing this hypothetical speech in the context of extracts from two different closing arguments.
References
Myers, Greg. 1999. Functions of Reported Speech in Group Discussions. Applied Linguistics 20(3), pp. 376-401.