Course: Socio- and applied linguistics - from researcher and teacher to expert in court

Times: 9am - 12:30pm

Dates: Thursday and Friday, 5 - 6 December 2019

Instructor: Professor Diana Eades, University of New England

Registration: Please register here for Summer School 2019



Lawyers and linguists have different expertise and experience in questions of language, and there is increasing dialogue between these two disciplines and professions. This course will focus on how sociolinguistic and applied linguistic principles and research findings can be relevant to questions for which lawyers seek expert opinions in specific cases being decided by courts or tribunals.

A major aim of the course is to present to linguists and aspiring linguists some of the basics about what is involved, required, helpful and unhelpful in the preparation and presentation of expert reports and oral evidence on sociolinguistic and applied linguistic questions. Related to this aim, it is hoped that socio- and applied linguists will gain some confidence and interest in the possibility of agreeing to undertake such work in the future if it were to arise in their area/s of expertise.

Assumed knowledge

Knowledge of some current areas of research in sociolinguistics and/or applied linguistics would be an advantage. Areas in which Australian linguists have been asked to present socio/applied linguistic evidence include:

  • comprehensibility of written legal texts
  • comprehension of rights (to silence, lawyer) in a specific police interview 
  • comprehension of questions in specific (other) legal interviews
  • second language proficiency of an individual
  • possible miscommunication between interviewer and Aboriginal interviewee
  • meaning (not use!) of metaphorical expressions
  • whether a written record of police-citizen interaction was made after the event, as claimed, OR was likely to be a transcript of a covertly and illegally made audio-recording
  • whether the text of letters received by a company comprised a threat.

Background knowledge

While the course will not assume any knowledge of law, participants might benefit from reading the language and law textbook Sociolinguistics and the Legal Process by Diana Eades (2010, Multilingual Matters), particularly chapters 1-3, and 11.


Professor Eades would greatly appreciate hearing in advance from any linguist who has been asked to act as an expert witness on a sociolinguistic or applied linguistic topic (whether or not it resulted in an expert report, and maybe also courtroom evidence).


The course will present information about expert linguistic evidence, including:

  • the relevant areas of law 
  • concerns of lawyers and courts
  • role, ethics, rules and challenges for expert witnesses

A brief discussion of questions will follow, directed to groups of 2-3 participants aimed at facilitating understanding of differences in what is required between being a scholar vs being an expert witness. Participant will discuss:

  • selected areas of sociolinguistic/applied linguistic scholarly  expertise: what can we do?; principles: what principles do our disciplines rely on?; findings: what specific research findings might be relevant?
  • how to make these principles and findings accessible to non-linguists, who may not share our assumptions about language

The requirements for written expert reports and expert witness oral evidence will presented and Professor Eades will disseminate references relevant to selected applied/socio linguistic expert evidence topics.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University