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  • Multimodal conduct in the law: Language, gesture and materiality in legal interaction by Gregory Matoesian and Kristin Enola Gilbert
  • Elizabeth Mertz
Multimodal conduct in the law: Language, gesture and materiality in legal interaction. By Gregory Matoesian and Kristin Enola Gilbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. 262. ISBN 9781108402866. $33.99.

In this impressive volume, Gregory Matoesian and Kristin Enola Gilbert provide the field of law-and-language studies with an important set of analytic tools, insisting that systematic study of multimodal conduct be integrated into research on legal communication. In particular, M&G focus on modes of communication such as gesture, gaze, posture, movement, and speakers' interactions with physical objects—modes that have not received as much attention within language-and-law research as has legal language in a more traditional conception. For scholars who are unfamiliar with studies of multimodal conduct, the book offers a rigorous but accessible introduction to the field, along with sophisticated analyses of legal interactions demonstrating the value of the authors' approach. For linguists, sociolinguists, and linguistic anthropologists more generally, the volume offers an inventive entry in the growing literature integrating multimodal analysis into microanalysis of linguistic exchanges—and the macroanalysis of language within institutions. For those interested in research on legal language, this study advances the field through its comprehensive vision of how we can incorporate multimodal analysis into existing paradigms.

One of the big problems with incorporating multimodal conduct into our studies of linguistic exchanges in general—and courtroom discourse in particular—is the sheer volume of that kind of conduct. As M&G amply demonstrate, every second of our interactions with each other contains multitudes. It was already challenging enough to perform detailed analyses of language in legal [End Page 425] and other settings, without adding this avalanche of additional data. It has been common in sociolinguistic, linguistic anthropological, conversation-analytic, and other forms of detailed language research to include in our transcripts a smattering of audible features (see e.g. Hirsch 1998, Matoesian 2001, Richland 2008). Examples include notations for pauses, sound prolongation, emphasis, loudness, overlapping or cut-off speech, and so on. In that tradition, analyses of short sequences of talk can take whole chapters. Now imagine adding to those analyses and transcripts the dense thicket of gesture, gaze, shifts in body position, movement, and more! In this volume, to give one small example, the authors introduce a series of symbols just to capture aspects of one kind of gesture ('beat gestures'; see p. xii). In addition, they use pictures and descriptions to fill in details of the multimodal conduct under scrutiny.

So in light of the fact that dissecting a brief interaction in this way can occupy entire chapters, readers could understandably worry about the book moving randomly all over the map as it dives into small bits of much longer interactions. Instead, M&G offer a set of analyses organized around an exacting theoretical framework as they highlight particular instances of multimodal conduct in a single trial. The selection of examples is methodical and systematic. This is an exciting development for law-and-language analysts who seek to integrate unquestionably important multimodal aspects of communication into their research. As the authors note, there is a significant literature in the field of gesture studies, in addition to growing bodies of research in other areas pertinent to multimodal analysis. However, 'the study of gesture (as it integrates other modal forms) is conspicuously absent in language and law research', and 'the study of legal interaction is largely absent in the field of gesture studies' (xi). Their welcome intervention seeks to remedy those notable gaps.

The book is divided into three sections. Part I uses studies of multimodal conduct to uncover microlevel processes through which participants negotiate identity in court. This turns out to be very important in everything from establishing expert witnesses' authority to battles over gender inequality—and, one suspects, other forms of social hierarchy—within legal settings. Part II turns to issues of motivation, control, and credibility as they play out in trial practice within a dense thicket of multimodal interchanges. These are layered over the...


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pp. 425-431
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