Language as a witness: Insights from cognitive linguistics

Luna Filipovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


The paper examines the way in which the latest linguistic typology (Talmy 1985) can be used in the analysis of witness testimonies in multilingual court cases. Original transcripts of witness testimonies in Spanish and their translations in English by certified court interpreters have been used in this study. The two languages stand at the respective ends of the typological cline based on the lexicalization of the experiential domain in focus here, which is that of motion events. Spanish pattern involves directional verbs in motion expressions and scarce reference to manner, whereas the English pattern “favours” detailed reference to the manner of motion due to the abundance of manner verbs and constructions. Descriptions of motion events in Spanish have significantly fewer types and tokens of manner verbs compared to those of directional verbs, indicating that information on manner is frequently omitted. The English pattern, with pronounced presence of the Manner component in lexicalization, induces interpreters to add information about manner of motion in their translations, affecting the content of the testimonies. Other issues discussed in this paper include agentivity in constructions and their translations, the departure from the habitual pattern in Spanish on certain occasions, and the narrative style of witness testimonies reflecting respective lexicalization patterns of the two languages. The conclusion is that this kind of applied, interdisciplinary research can raise awareness about the role language plays beyond the text itself, and by doing so, bring about improvements and better understanding in the process of witness questioning and translation of witness testimonies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-267
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Speech, Language and the Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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