"You keep telling us different things, what do we believe?”: Meta-communication and meta-representation in police interviews

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Quotation and reflective interpretation of previous statements are common features in police interviews. Of particular importance is the uncovering of apparent contradictions between earlier and current responses in interviews of suspects. Conflicting statements can be used by officers as triggers to elicit new responses that explain inconsistencies. In linguistic pragmatics, such reflective commenting on utterances is categorized as metacommunication, i.e. ‘communication about communication’, which includes metarepresentation, i.e. second-order representation of another representation through some form of quotation. Such instances of metacommunication are key-instances of negotiating the communicative interests of its chief participants, which in a suspect interviews consist on the one hand in the interviewers’ purpose of establishing grounds for a potential criminal charge and, on the other hand, the interviewee’s interest in avoiding such a charge. This article analyses exemplary cases of metacommunication in multilingual police interviews from the perspective of quotation pragmatics. The results suggest that police interview training should pay special attention to this area in order to optimise cognitive results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-48
Number of pages17
JournalPragmatics and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2019


  • quotation
  • police interview
  • pragmatics
  • face theory
  • rapport
  • cognitive interview

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