Modality and argumentation in courtroom examinations

Francesca Seracini*

*Corresponding author

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This paper investigates the use of modality in courtroom examinations. Firstly, the study proposes to determine to what degree the use of modality in argumentative courtroom discourse is similar be- tween legal movies and real trials. Secondly, the study aims to shed light on the function of modal verbs in the argumentative discourse of direct and cross-examinations. The data reveal a widespread use and a similar distribution of modal verbs in AMtrials, a corpus of legal movies and in ARtC, a corpus of real trials. An in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis was carried out on the modal would, given its high frequency in the subcorpus of questions in movie trials. The results show that would is functional to the argumentation in courtroom examinations: on the one hand, it intensifies the coercive and manipulative force of declarative and choice questions by providing a hypothetical or present predictive connotation to the utterances. On the other hand, in a more subtle way, would contributes to fostering a cooperative attitude on the part of the witness by preventing or mitigating the possible negative impact of the questions s/he is asked, thus helping the attorney to guide the narration in the direction s/he desires. The analysis provided further evidence in favour of the view that dialogues in movies and natural conversations share similar language features (cf. Forchini 2010, 2013; Bednarek 2015), and that this is also the case where specialised language is involved (cf. Forchini 2017), with obvious implications for both the research and didactics of ESP.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe American Movie Corpus: A Tool for the Development of Spoken Lexico-Grammatical Competence
EditorsPierfranca Forchini
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • American Movie Corpus
  • argumentation
  • corpus linguistics
  • courtroom examination
  • modality
  • movies


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