Reviewed by Mark J. Elson, University of Virginia
Although there is no indication of it in the title, in addition to being an introduction to forensic linguistics, this book is a case study of the use of English as the legal language of Nigeria—that is, the language of the Nigerian court. The linguistic focus of the book includes speech acts, discourse, and syntax, with an emphasis on questions; the nonlinguistic focus appears to be power and the role language plays in instantiating and maintaining an inherently unequal relationship between representatives of the law in various forensic contexts (e.g. the courtroom) and defendants (i.e. those suspected or accused of illegal activities). Each context, as it interacts with power and/or language, may be viewed as a domain of forensic linguistics. This book is comprised of ten chapters (7–163) followed by six additional units (164–303) and concludes with a list of references (304–13).
Ch. 1 introduces the domains of forensic linguistics (e.g. legal interpreting, courtroom interaction, child witnesses, speaker identification) and provides a preliminary survey of the relevant literature. Ch. 2 introduces the nonlinguistic focus, power and asymmetrical relationships, and discusses these concepts with respect to forensic (e.g. suspect interrogation) as well as nonforensic (e.g. casual conversation, family discourse) domains.
Chs. 3, 6, and 9 present details of the Nigerian legal system. Ch. 3 concentrates on the police force, Ch. 6 on the law and issues of power in the Nigerian courtroom, and Ch. 9 on interpreting and the role of English as an instrument of power with respect to the indigenous languages of the country, the most important of which are Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba.
Chs. 5 and 8 concentrate on questions as instruments of power, with Ch. 8 providing different typologies of questions. Chs. 4 and 7 treat power in the courtroom and other contexts more generally. The book concludes with Ch. 10, which surveys speech acts.
This book has two weaknesses. The first weakness is its somewhat inconvenient organization: the components of the discussion, which I identified above as the linguistic and nonlinguistic foci, are nowhere specified as such. The relevant facts about the Nigerian legal system and the discussion of power are the contents of nonconsecutive chapters, as is the discussion of questions. The basics of pragmatics are provided in the final chapter, rather than the first chapter, as would be expected. Finally, much of the author’s original contribution is not highlighted in the central part of the book but instead is relegated to a subsidiary position. A second weakness of this book is the author’s English, which is inadequately edited. As a result, errors are relatively frequent.
Despite these weaknesses, I found this to be a valuable book: the analyses are especially interesting as is the case study of English as the legal language in a multilingual country in which English is not one of the indigenous languages. Although these shortcomings do not detract from its contribution they make the book more difficult to appreciate.