“Can innocent people be guilty?”
A sociopragmatic analysis of examination transcripts from the salem witchcraft trials
In this paper, I present a sociopragmatic method of analysing historical courtroom interaction, drawing data from Boyer and Nissenbaum’s (1977) Salem Witchcraft Papers. Concentrating as much upon the answers that the magistrates’ questions received as the questions themselves, I complement a grammatical analysis of question-types and their conducivity, with an analysis of responses in terms of Grice’s (1975) Cooperative Principle. I argue that (1) the magistrates’ questions appear to take on additional “controlling” and “accusing” functions, and (2) questions that functioned as accusations were particularly difficult to disprove, in part because the magistrates were responsible for “judging” the “legitimacy” of a “reality” their questioning strategy helped to construct. I demonstrate that the Salem magistrates adopted a “guilty but unwilling to confess” paradigm that led them to assume that defendants who maintained their innocence were lying, and then discuss the implications of reality paradigms for Grice’s (1975) theory.
Published online: 25 January 2002
Cited by 23 other publications
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