Dateline: June, 2011, Issue 2

What speech style is most effective for witnesses?

Witnesses differ in how powerless or powerful their speech style is, and their speech style affects their credibility.

O'Barr (1982) investigated the courtroom speech style of witnesses, and identified two speech styles: powerless speech (i.e., low social power) and powerful speech. Powerless speech includes:

Powerful speech occurs when powerless linguistic forms are not used.

O'Barr collected taped segments of court testimony exemplifying powerless speech. New tapes were then made by actors to replicate as closely as possible the speech characteristics in the original testimony. A second tape by the same actors omitted the linguistic features of powerless speech, generating the same testimony in a powerful style. Jurors hearing the powerful speech testimony rated the witness as more believable, convincing, competent, trustworthy and intelligent as compared to the same testimony using a powerless style.

The same testimony can be presented in powerful or powerless speech styles. Witnesses using a powerful speech style are more credible to jurors.

Source O'Barr, W.M. (1982). Linguistic evidence: Language, power, and strategy in the courtroom. New York: Academic Press.