Problematizing Minority Voices: Intertextuality and Ideology in the Court Reporter's Representation of Rachel Jeantel's Voice in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman Murder Trial
In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, who, after a month-long highly-publicized trial, was acquitted of second-degree murder. In this study, I examine the testimony of Martin’s childhood friend and key witness for the prosecution, Rachel Jeantel. Although Rachel Jeantel was an ear witness to the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin, her approximately six hours of testimony was reportedly entirely disregarded by the jurors. Linguists, in the years since this trial occurred, have argued that the disregard for her testimony was mostly due her language variety: African American Vernacular English (McWhorter, 2013; Subtirelu 2013; Rickford and King, 2016). There have been numerous cases in the United States and around the world in which lay people of the court are treated unfairly by the opposing side’s attorney as a result of their vernacular dialect (Gumperz, 1982b; Wodak-Engel, 1984; Eades, 2004). This study illuminates another mechanism by which witness testimony may be undermined by the practices of the court reporter. The court reporter is tasked with creating a “verbatim” account of what was said during the trial and is not explicitly involved in the adversarial process.Each chapter of this study illustrates how Jeantel’s “nonstandardness” in the courtroom environment is co-constructed by the court reporter and others present, including Jeantel herself, as problematic in part through the interaction of the court reporter and the physical creation of the official court transcript. While lending insight into court reporter participation, and connections among the concepts of repair (Schegloff, Jefferson, and Sacks, 1977; Svennevig, 2008; Meredith and Stokoe, 2014), revoicing (Agha, 2003; Tannen, 1995; 2007b; 2010), intertextuality (Bakhtin, 1981; Matoesian, 1999; Gordon, 2009), and corrective feedback from Second Language Acquisition (Mackey, Kanagas, and Oliver, 2007; Ortega, 2009; Lyster and Saito, 2010), this study also contributes to ongoing efforts at improving the criminal justice system by encouraging fair treatment for speakers of nonstandard language varieties.
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