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Can You Answer the Question?
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Can You Answer the Question? --An Ethnographic Study of Questioning as a Culturally-Situated Persuasive Genre of Talk This paper is an ethnographic study of the questioning discourse in Chinese criminal trials. Questioning in Chinese criminal courts takes on culture-specific forms and plays culture-specific functions. It is not to obtain information, as Danet and Kermish (1978) claimed that it was in American courts. 1 It is not to weaken or rebut respondents’ testimonies, unlike what Drew (1990) concluded from his analysis of questioning in the American courtroom. Neither is it to control the length of responses (Danet, Hoffman, Kermish, Rafn, & Stayman, 1980). It is to persuade. Situated in the Chinese cultural context, the questioning discourse in Chinese criminal trials is used to perform cultural functions: to persuade defendants to confess in court and, most importantly, to educate the public and prevent crimes through its punitive force (i.e., to persuade the public not to commit crimes). As a rhetorical means, questioning takes on culture-specific forms: distinct roles—the prosecution, the attorney, or the presiding judge are questioners and defendants are and are only respondents; no observable restrictions on types of questions asked since verbal objections to a question on the account of its inappropriateness are alien to Chinese criminal courts 2 ; a large variety and quantity of questions; and a number of questioning strategies for both of the persuasive goals mentioned above. After a brief literature review and a discussion of data collection and analysis methods, I will describe in detail patterns of questioning as cultural practice in Chinese criminal trials and explore its persuasive dimensions. Finally I will discuss the deterrent function of the questioning discourse in the Chinese cultural context. Courtroom Questioning: A Review of Literature There has been a body of literature on questioning as one type of legal discourse in a Western setting. Most of them are typological studies of forms of questions and their communicative functions 1 This view has been criticized by Dunstan (1980) who observed that most questions were not for information and it was written in trial manual that in cross examination one should never ask any questions for which he or she doesn’t have an answer. 2 In American courtroom there are specific rules of questioning so that when a question is considered inappropriate an attorney may raise an objection. Yet, in Chinese criminal courts that I observed there was never such a verbal objection against any type of question asked by the prosecution.

Authors: Chang, Yanrong.
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1
Can You Answer the Question?
--An Ethnographic Study of Questioning as a
Culturally-Situated Persuasive Genre of Talk

This paper is an ethnographic study of the questioning discourse in Chinese criminal trials.
Questioning in Chinese criminal courts takes on culture-specific forms and plays culture-specific
functions. It is not to obtain information, as Danet and Kermish (1978) claimed that it was in American
courts.
1
It is not to weaken or rebut respondents’ testimonies, unlike what Drew (1990) concluded from
his analysis of questioning in the American courtroom. Neither is it to control the length of responses
(Danet, Hoffman, Kermish, Rafn, & Stayman, 1980). It is to persuade. Situated in the Chinese cultural
context, the questioning discourse in Chinese criminal trials is used to perform cultural functions: to
persuade defendants to confess in court and, most importantly, to educate the public and prevent crimes
through its punitive force (i.e., to persuade the public not to commit crimes). As a rhetorical means,
questioning takes on culture-specific forms: distinct roles—the prosecution, the attorney, or the presiding
judge are questioners and defendants are and are only respondents; no observable restrictions on types of
questions asked since verbal objections to a question on the account of its inappropriateness are alien to
Chinese criminal courts
2
; a large variety and quantity of questions; and a number of questioning strategies
for both of the persuasive goals mentioned above. After a brief literature review and a discussion of data
collection and analysis methods, I will describe in detail patterns of questioning as cultural practice in
Chinese criminal trials and explore its persuasive dimensions. Finally I will discuss the deterrent function
of the questioning discourse in the Chinese cultural context.
Courtroom Questioning: A Review of Literature
There has been a body of literature on questioning as one type of legal discourse in a Western
setting. Most of them are typological studies of forms of questions and their communicative functions
1
This view has been criticized by Dunstan (1980) who observed that most questions were not for information and it
was written in trial manual that in cross examination one should never ask any questions for which he or she doesn’t
have an answer.
2
In American courtroom there are specific rules of questioning so that when a question is considered inappropriate
an attorney may raise an objection. Yet, in Chinese criminal courts that I observed there was never such a verbal
objection against any type of question asked by the prosecution.


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