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‘It's Always English in the Cop Shop’: Accounts of Minority Language Use in the Criminal Justice System in Wales



European language activists have successfully campaigned for the right to use regional or minority languages in judicial contexts. Despite this, such rights are rarely exercised. This is commonly understood as a function of the unavailability and/or inaccessibility of appropriate language services, so judicial authorities in a range of countries are urged to do more to meet their obligations to meet the needs of minority language speakers. The article draws on a study of language use in one criminal justice system where the right to use a minority language exists. It uses a discourse analytic approach to explore how first-language Welsh-speaking criminal justice service users account for their choice, and usage, of language, and what purposes these accounts may serve for narrators. Despite their commitment to the Welsh language, none of the study respondents used Welsh in their most recent episodes in the police station or at court. Two competing discursive constructions were evident in respondent accounts which served specific objectives for narrators. A ‘down to them’ discursive construction, which drew on wider imperialist discourses, positioned narrators as powerless victims of a system in which they had no choice over language. This construction legitimised narrators’ claim to Welshness and castigated agencies of the criminal justice system. Simultaneously, however, narrators deployed ‘up to me’ discursive constructions to demonstrate resistance to the role of victim. This construction positioned narrators as more powerful and as exercising agency and choice in the criminal justice system. The article thus challenges oversimplified understandings of minority language use and non-use in the criminal justice system.

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