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Can You Answer the Question?
Unformatted Document Text:  15 rules are evoked in Chinese criminal courts to achieve the persuasive goal of obtaining verbal admissions of guilt from defendants. Persuasion through Unanswerable Questions Another salient feature of questioning in Chinese criminal courts is the existence of a large number and variety of unanswerable questions. Lakoff (1973) defined appropriate questions as characterized by two features: 1) the speaker does not know the answer but really wants to (sincerity); and 2) the speaker has a reason to believe that the hearer knows the answer. In addition, Lakoff pointed out that contexts were important in deciding the appropriateness of a question. For example, in a classroom setting, the first condition does not apply. In a courtroom setting, those rules may not always apply either. For instance, it is strategic requirements that demand that sometimes people ask questions having answers known to them already. Likewise in Chinese criminal courts, the prosecution or the presiding judge asks questions to which they believe they already have answers. However, it is indeed possible to infer some general rules about unanswerable questions. In Chinese criminal courts unanswerable questions are specifically those intended to confuse or shame respondents. Confusion or puzzlement leads to inability to respond promptly or correctly. Unanswerable questions have been listed as one type of questions that should be avoided in interviews (Payne, 1951). Also, when one is shamed by a question, his or her ability to give answers to that question is greatly reduced. Unanswerable Questions I. Confusing Questions For a question to be answerable, one fundamental rule is that the questioner must make respondents clear what question he or she is asking. One easy way to confuse respondents, hence making questions unanswerable, is to ask several questions simultaneously, i.e., the so-called double-barreled questions. This type of question is pervasively employed in Chinese criminal courts. Excerpt # 12 [BC.CRT.P.2001] 01 Q: Did you sign your name on the contract? Who gave you that ¥20, 000? 02 A: (Silence) 03 Q: Why do you think they gave you ¥20, 000?

Authors: Chang, Yanrong.
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background image
15
rules are evoked in Chinese criminal courts to achieve the persuasive goal of obtaining verbal admissions
of guilt from defendants.
Persuasion through Unanswerable Questions
Another salient feature of questioning in Chinese criminal courts is the existence of a large
number and variety of unanswerable questions. Lakoff (1973) defined appropriate questions as
characterized by two features: 1) the speaker does not know the answer but really wants to (sincerity); and
2) the speaker has a reason to believe that the hearer knows the answer. In addition, Lakoff pointed out
that contexts were important in deciding the appropriateness of a question. For example, in a classroom
setting, the first condition does not apply. In a courtroom setting, those rules may not always apply
either. For instance, it is strategic requirements that demand that sometimes people ask questions having
answers known to them already. Likewise in Chinese criminal courts, the prosecution or the presiding
judge asks questions to which they believe they already have answers.
However, it is indeed possible to infer some general rules about unanswerable questions. In
Chinese criminal courts unanswerable questions are specifically those intended to confuse or shame
respondents. Confusion or puzzlement leads to inability to respond promptly or correctly. Unanswerable
questions have been listed as one type of questions that should be avoided in interviews (Payne, 1951).
Also, when one is shamed by a question, his or her ability to give answers to that question is greatly
reduced.
Unanswerable Questions I. Confusing Questions
For a question to be answerable, one fundamental rule is that the questioner must make
respondents clear what question he or she is asking. One easy way to confuse respondents, hence making
questions unanswerable, is to ask several questions simultaneously, i.e., the so-called double-barreled
questions. This type of question is pervasively employed in Chinese criminal courts.
Excerpt # 12 [BC.CRT.P.2001]
01
Q: Did you sign your name on the contract? Who gave you that ¥20, 000?
02 A: (Silence)
03 Q: Why do you think they gave you ¥20, 000?


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