Language at the Center of the American Justice System


ACLS Fellowship Program


Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures


In the United States, the Miranda warning informs laypersons who are subject to police questioning of two fundamental constitutional rights: the right against compelled self-incrimination and the right to counsel. The manner in which laypersons invoke rights reveals their understanding of how language is used to achieve linguistic goals that may not be consonant with case law and its enforcement. This project examines legal institutions’ historical interpretation and enforcement of linguistic actions invoking constitutional rights; laypersons’ knowledge of how discourse is used to achieve linguistic goals in institutional settings; and the effect of Miranda case law on police-layperson custodial exchanges. The project argues that despite the role of discourse in shaping legal outcomes, the validity and widely accepted use of linguistic analysis to understand a legal process is yet to be fully and uniformly embraced by the courts and those who enforce the law.