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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 20, 2005

Linguist To Speak On Coercion In Police Interrogations Oct. 25 At UI

An expert in "forensic linguistics" -- the intersection of language and the law -- will speak about police coercion Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the University of Iowa. Susan Berk-Seligson, professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University, will speak on, "Wrongfully convicted? Evidence of coercion in a police interrogation," starting at 4 p.m. in Room 101 Becker Communication Studies Building. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Berk-Seligson will speak about a specific instance of coercion in which police obtained a signed written confession from a suspect despite convincing evidence of his innocence. She will discuss the case using the notion of 'stance,' an aspect of legal discourse that refers to linguistic mechanisms used to express "attitudes, feelings, judgments, or commitment to the propositional content of a message." Stance-taking is particularly relevant to adversarial interaction, and especially salient in situations of highly asymmetrical power relations, such as police interrogations, Berk-Seligson said.

Berk-Seligson is jointly appointed in the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University. Her publications include, "The Bilingual Courtroom: Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process," (University of Chicago Press 1990 and 2002,) which was named Outstanding Book in the Field of Applied Linguistics by the British Association of Applied Linguistics and was nominated for the Scribes Book Award by the American Bar Association.

Based on her research interests both in language and the law as well as in Spanish in the United States, Berk-Seligson has served as a linguistic expert witness in cases involving the rights of linguistic minorities to speak a language other than English, particularly in the workplace, as well as in cases involving the right to quality interpreting services in U.S. Immigration and Naturalization hearings. She has been a Research Affiliate of the National Center for State Courts since 1998 and a member of the Advisory Committee overseeing the Federal Court Interpreter's Certification Exam since 2001.

Berk-Seligson's visit to the UI is sponsored by the Department of Communication Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information or special accommodations to attend this event, please contact the department at 319-335-0575.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,;