Linguistics: Intonation Matters: A prosodic phonological analysis of a courtroom discourse
Richard Yuan, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies
Intonation Matters: A prosodic phonological analysis of a courtroom discourse
Have you ever seen a prosecutor bullying a defendant or other (expert) witnesses by manipulating tones (and other linguistic or paralinguistic resources) in a courtroom trial? This talk presents a prosodic phonological analysis of such courtroom discourse from the perspective of SFL phonology – to demonstrate that intonation matters in legal processes. The talk starts by introducing the case brief of a high-profile courtroom trial in the US, and then proceeds to introduce Halliday’s prosodic phonology systems: TONALITY, TONICITY and TONE systems, and RHYTHM. A fine-grained analysis of an excerpt (i.e. video clip) is presented by way of illustrating the insights gained from analysis of this kind.
Defendant: //3 ^ because you’re / making my / brain / scramble //
Prosecutor: //1↑ I’m a- / gain making your / brain scramble//
//4+ so / ^ in / this particular / case the / problem is not ↑/ you //1 ^ it’s the ↑/ questions being / posed by the / prosecutor //2 right //
Defendant: //3 ^ I think I’m /more /focused on your /posture and your /tone and your /anger //
//4 so / ^ it’s /hard to /process the /question//
Prosecutor: //3 so / ^ the /answer is /it’s //1 a/gain the /prosecutor’s fault //
//1 because you per/ceive him to be /angry//2 right//
My research questions are: (1) What does the defendant perceive in the posture and tone as angry? (Or, Why does the defendant perceive the prosecutor to be angry?) (2) And how is the perceived anger invoked?
For the first question, the answer is the body language/paralanguage and phonology (intonation, the focus of this talk) – meanings which interact with the lexicogrammar and discourse semantics (e.g. exchange structure).
For the second question, how the perceived anger is invoked, we propose “phonological graduation” – the interaction of intonation and APPRAISAL. Phonological graduation invokes the perception of anger. For example, the up-jumps in pitch (pitch height) give prominence and salience to I’m and again in this particular case. It is the prosecutor’s aggressive ‘sound’ that makes the defendant feel/perceive that he was angry. And that (his anger) makes her brain scramble and his questions hard to process.