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Truth and Proof in a Lawyer's Story

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Title:Truth and Proof in a Lawyer's Story
Authors:Bilmes, Jack
Conversation analysis
show 1 moreFederal Trade Commission
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Date Issued:2012
Citation:Journal of Pragmatics 44 (2012) 1626-1638
Abstract:There is a distinction between commonly known truth and truth as established for legal purposes. The latter requires proof. This distinction between ordinary truth and legal truth is available to speakers as a discursive resource (although differently available in different cultures). In this paper, after a brief discussion of some matters relating to evidence, proof, and truth, I analyze a short, generic story told by a lawyer in the Federal Trade Commission, in which the representatives of companies allegedly violating the law say ‘‘You can’t prove it.’’ The violation is relatively minor and there is some controversy about whether to include the charge in the case. The story, I argue, provides a motivation which goes beyond the strictly legal. The company representatives capitalize on the distinction between ‘‘mere truth’’ and legally established truth. I conclude with a discussion of the place of proof---the word, its variants, and the things which constitute proof---in conversation, including a discussion of sequential placement, deniability, nonverbal signals and implicature, and a distinction between ‘‘official’’ and ‘‘unofficial’’ communication. It is the disparity between their official and unofficial stances that gives the company representatives’ behavior its distinctive interactional force.
Journal:Journal of Pragmatics
Appears in Collections: Jack Bilmes

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