Van den Hoven, Paul

Processing multimodal legal discourse ; the case of Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams / Paul van den Hove, Gabrijela Kišiček. - 33-63 str.

To analyze the impact of increasing numbers of legal arguments presented in court by means of multimodal discourse, one needs to understand the semiotics of these discourse formats (Van den Hoven 2011). Approaching from the legal perspective it seems obvious to contrast these discourse formats with a prototypical verbal legal argumentative discourse. In this lecture we focus on a striking difference between this prototypical legal discourse format and a complex multimodal discourse format: the role of the mediating narrator. We will analyze the differences and reflect upon the impact on the interpretation of the argument the discourse intends to convey. In prototypical verbal legal discourse the narrator concurs with one clearly identifiable top-voice, to be identified with the agent who presents the discourse. Even though such discourse format is suitable to convey complicated polyphonic structures, quoting, asserting or refuting many embedded voices, the narration is close to ‘monotone’ ; the top-voice organizes the polyphony. The sources of information are limited and rather conventionally related, in case of an oral presentation and even more in case of written discourse (Mazzi 2007 ; van den Hoven 2011). This is essentially different in multimodal formats. The ‘narrator’, defined as the organizing principle can be highly abstract, not concurring with one specific discourse voice. Obviously, the agent who presents the discourse has to take responsibility for the way the discourse is narrated, but this responsibility is not ‘embodied’ in this agent acting. The sources of information that are organized by the narrator are many, divers, and relate to each other in complex ways (Branigan 1992, Kišiček, 2015). In this lecture we will analyze episodes of a video clip, produced as part of a final request for clemency, before Stanley Williams was executed by the State of California in the fall of 2006. We will show how initially a voice-over replaces the top-voice narrator of the prototypical legal discourse ; how then actually the ‘editing hand’ takes over part this role, often accompanied by the moving camera ; how complicated episodes of embedded voices tend to develop into independent narrations. Using discourse analytical approach, we show how these discourse structures render the narrator (in the sense of the implied author) highly abstract. We further show how many sources of information (images, voices, camera as a narrative entity, editor as a narrative entity, embedded sounds and music, embedded human voices, displays and photo’s) all contribute to the development of the ‘argument’ that this discourse obviously conveys. Their interrelations are partly ‘conventional’ as studied in film and social semiotics (Metz 1974 ; Bordwell & Thompson 1997 ; Nichols 1981 ; Kress 2009) ; often, however, meaning emerges from interrelations between sources of information (‘modes’), guided by general principles of immediacy (interpreters always attempt to ‘on line’- integrate information from all modes), relevance (interpreters develop hypotheses about intended meaning under the assumption that information from each mode is relevant at the moment it becomes available), and coherence (interpreters develop hypotheses about intended meaning under the assumption that information from all modes coheres) (Wangqi & van den Hoven 2011). Understanding the semiotics of these complex multimodal discourse formats one can reflect on the complications this implies for the legally important requirement to model the argumentative commitments of participants in a discussion with great precision. We end our lecture indicating what insight in the semiotics of multimodal argumentative discourse may imply for one’s attitude towards the admissibility of such discourse in legal procedures.

Kišiček, Gabrijela ;

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