In the fall of 2018, students who took a Senior Seminar in Linguistic Studies course offered through the College of Liberal Arts, not only learned the ins-and-outs of analyzing forensic linguistics, but also participated in a mock trial on a real-life forensics case. The mock trial was held at the end of November in a courtroom setting with volunteers from the law community, including a judge, bailiff, court interpreter and two attorneys.
The course was broken into three parts over the semester and was taught all in Spanish. The first part of the course, students studied a number of court cases and talked about them in class. The second part of the course gave students the opportunity to present a project on some aspect of Spanish that had the potential for being an object of litigation. The third part - the mock trial - allowed students to participate in a mock trial on a case that centered around linguistics and the use of Spanish slur in the workplace. The mock trial was performed in English because American courts operate in English.
World Languages and Literatures Instructor, Gerald McMenamin taught the seminar course and has over 35 years of experience working in forensic linguistics. "The real motivation behind this [course] is that colleges and universities are looking for a way to make the arts and humanities serve students better in terms of their job prospects," McMenamin said. He wanted this course and the mock trial to provide students with another idea of what they can do with their degrees and their education in language.
"Not everyone who studies linguistics will be a professor - they may be an expert witness - the purpose of the mock trial gave them some experience to work with linguistics," McMenamin said. He also works as an expert witness and consults on law cases all over the world.
McMenamin said that the mock trial taught students everything that an expert witness needs to do. There are three types of mock trials - those that train judges and those that train attorneys. This mock trial was to train witnesses.
The case involved the plaintiff, an African American worker, who alleges that his Mexican-American coworkers used the derogatory Spanish nickname "negrito" to address and refer to him, creating a discriminatory and racially hostile work environment. The students had to present linguistic evidence to support that the term "negrito" was offensive and negative.
McMenamin was really surprised at the quality of work the students came forth to present. "These students came up with two brand new aspects of this which we presented in the mock trial." McMenamin was surprised that he didn't see these aspects when he did the original case.
After the mock trial, students had the opportunity to go to dinner and network with the mock trial volunteers. The students commented on how aggressive the attorney was during the trial, but at dinner she had a completely different and compassionate manner. One student was so inspired, she has already been in contact with the attorney to gain some mentorship for her law school preparations after graduation from the University of Nevada, Reno.
In addition to the Seminar 441 class, other language classes were able to participate in the audience of the mock trial. A translation class attended the mock trial to listen to the simultaneous interpreting from English to Spanish. There is a huge need for interpreting in the community right now, so the World Languages and Literatures Department was hoping to encourage students' interest in this field by inviting them to listen to the mock trial.
McMenamin's goal for the class was to present students with options for work after earning a humanities education. In addition to becoming an expert witness, he said other jobs in linguistics include acoustic phonetics - voice recognition and production - and programming languages for linguistics.