Accents of Guilt?

Dialect Discrimination in the courtroom

Research suggests that using a nonstandard dialect in the courtroom may have detrimental effects on a speaker’s position in the courtroom due to dialect discrimination. For example, Rachel Jeantel, who is trilingual, spoke a nonstandard dialect of American English during her testimony as a key witness for the prosecution in the trial of Robert Zimmerman (the man who killed Trayvon Martin). Rickford (2016) argues that Rachel Jeantel’s dialect interacted with jurors’ perceptions about her credibility as a witness in the trialIn this paper I will review research that explores how one’s accent and dialect can affect how a person is treated in the courts, whether the person is the accused or a witness.

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Sources to Consult

Dixon, J. A., & Mahoney, B. (2004). The effect of accent evaluation and evidence on a suspect’s perceived guilt and criminality. The Journal of Social Psychology144(1), 63-73.

Dixon, J. (2002). Accents of Guilt? Journal of Language and Social Psychology., 21(2), 162-168.
Eligon, J. (Jan. 26, 2019). Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences. New

York Times, p. NA(L). Gale General OneFile,

https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A571076338/ITOF?u=c… .

Rickford, J. (2016). Language and linguistics on trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and other vernacular

speakers) in the courtroom and beyond. Language 92(4), 948-988.
Rigogliso, M. (Dec 2, 2014). Stanford linguist says prejudice toward African American dialect can result in

unfair rulings. Stanford News. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/vernacular-

trial-testimony-120214.html

Shousterman, C. (Oct 30, 2013). Linguistic prejudice is a real prejudice (and has real consequences). The Online Journal on African American English. https://aaenglish.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/linguistic-prejudice-is-a-real-prejudice-and-has- real-consequences/

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