May vs. Might in native vs. non-native English: Implications for inference and judgement in legal and educational contexts

Luna Filipovic

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Abstract

In this paper we discuss the empirically documented difference in a mock-jury judgement task between native speakers of English and speakers of English as a second language. We discovered a difference between these two populations in the understanding of events described by witnesses with regard to the use of verbs may and might. The events described with may were scored much higher on the possibility and witness certainty scales than when the same events were described by might for the non-native English speakers. On the other hand, the native speakers of English did not judge the events described with may and those with might differently. Further, the results for the non-native speakers did not vary based on their L1. A closer look at a sample of textbooks has provided support for the hypothesis that it is the L2 instruction materials and a specific learner strategy that are the most likely causes of the significant difference in inference and judgement between the two speaker groups. We discuss these findings in light of their applicability in, and their relevance for, legal contexts of witness testimony and jury judgement as well as their pedagogical implications and applications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181–201
JournalApplied Linguistics Review
Volume7
Issue number2
Early online date31 May 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Keywords

  • jury judgement
  • L1 English vs L2 English
  • may vs might
  • modality

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