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University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
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November 6, 2001 Contact: Bryant Payne (312) 355-2523; bpayne2@uic.edu


A new book by a University of Illinois at Chicago criminologist shows how language practices shape culture and the law, particularly in the social and legal construction of rape.

In "Law and the Language of Identity: Discourse in the William Kennedy Smith Rape Trial" (Oxford University Press), Greg Matoesian, UIC associate professor of criminal justice and sociolinguist, recounts the dialogue in the 1991 rape trial of William Kennedy Smith (nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.) and examines linguistic strategies from both the defense and prosecution standpoints.

Further, Matoesian demonstrates how such strategies relate to issues of gender, sexual identity and power.

"The rape trial, like other trials, is not about truth and falsity but winning and losing - and that, in turn, depends on who best uses language as a form of persuasion," said Matoesian.

Matoesian interviews Roy Black, defense attorney for Smith, and revisits the trial to give a detailed analysis of language use and its effect on the trial and the law.

"I investigate how language use, or discourse, constitutes legal realities in the social construction of rape," said Matoesian. "Language is not the mere passive vehicle for the impositions or transmission of law but actually constitutes and transforms evidence, facts and rules into relevant objects of legal knowledge."

Smith was acquitted of rape charges.

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