The aim of the study was to check whether minorities such as LEP/ZEP (limited/zero English proficiency) speakers can expect the same access to justice as competent English speakers in a majority language (US English) justice system. The main hypothesis is that, due to linguistic and cultural factors, the instances of miscommunication in the interrogation of LEP/ZEP suspects and witnesses will be more numerous than in the interrogation of the majority language (English) speakers. The data consist of authentic police interrogations by US law enforcement. All instances of miscommunication were classified based on the linguistic profiles of the interrogations: monolingual English, monolingual Spanish, and bilingual Spanish/English. The analyses were both quantitative and qualitative. Miscommunication occurs more frequently if interrogations are conducted bilingually (via interpreters) and cultural differences are exploited as part of pressure to confess. The main sources of miscommunication identified are (i) the questioning method, (ii) the lack of professional interpreting, and (iii) culture-specific communication patterns. We offer concrete suggestions for ensuring equality before the law for linguistic and cultural minorities.
Journal: Applied Linguistics