Nav: Home

Testifying while black: A linguistic analysis of disparities in court transcription

May 21, 2019

(Washington, DC) - A new study has found that court reporters transcribe speakers of African American English significantly below their required level of accuracy. The study "Testifying while black: An experimental study of court reporter accuracy in transcription of African American English," by Taylor Jones (University of Pennsylvania), Jessica Kalbfeld (New York University), Ryan Hancock (Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity), and Ryan Clark (University of Pennsylvania) will be published in the forthcoming June 2019 issue of the scholarly journal Language. A copy of article may be found here [pdf].

The study measured the accuracy of transcriptions made by court reporters, the stenographers who take down testimony word-for-word. It found that, on average, the court reporters tested were able to transcribe 82.9% of the words accurately when asked to record everyday sentences in African American English. Their transcriptions constitute the official court record, and the reporters are required to be certified at 95% accuracy. The reporters must be able to correctly transcribe 95% of all the words they hear in a test at specific speeds - but they are not tested on their ability to transcribe everyday speech in dialects other than Mainstream American English.

The researchers recruited native speakers of African American English from the Philadelphia area and recorded them reading sentences in the dialect. The audio recordings were played for 27 court reporters - one third of the official court reporting pool in Philadelphia - who were asked to transcribe the sentences they heard. They were also asked to paraphrase the sentences in classroom English, to determine if miscomprehension contributed to mistranscription.

Thirty-one percent of the transcriptions inaccurately altered the record of the people involved (who), the action or subject matter (what), the time or aspect (when), or the location (where). In addition, the test subjects, on average, paraphrased only 33% of the sentences correctly. Accuracy was not related to any individual characteristics of the court reporters like age, race, where they got their training, or number of years on the job.

African American English is a rule-governed dialect primarily spoken by African Americans, though not all African Americans speak the dialect and not all speakers of the dialect are African American. Previous research has demonstrated that speakers of Mainstream American English sometimes have difficulty understanding African American English, but are unaware of their miscomprehension.

This lack of awareness of the potential for miscomprehension has significant potential to impact the outcomes of both criminal and civil trials where witness testimony is evaluated by jurors, judges, and attorneys.
-end-
The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) publishes the peer-reviewed journal, Language, four times per year. The LSA is the largest national professional society representing the field of linguistics. Its mission is to advance the scientific study of language.

Linguistic Society of America

Related Transcription Articles:

Researchers find new role for dopamine in gene transcription and cell proliferation
A joint group of researchers at the George Washington University and the University of Pittsburgh have found that dopamine and the dopamine D2 receptor modulate expression via the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway.
SMAD2 and SMAD3, two almost identical transcription factors but with distinct roles
Both transcription factors regulate the expression of genes involved in embryo development, among other functions, although they exert very different roles.
Study explores role of mediator protein complex in transcription and gene expression
A new study led by Ryerson University called 'The Med31 Conserved Component of the Divergent Mediator Complex in Tetrahymena thermophila Participates in Developmental Regulation' advances existing knowledge about transcription and gene expression.
New members found in a transcription factor complex that maintains beta cells
A protein complex in the nucleus of beta cells contains different proteins that work together to regulate genes important for the development and maintenance of functional beta cells.
Testifying while black: A linguistic analysis of disparities in court transcription
A new study has found that court reporters transcribe speakers of African American English significantly below their required level of accuracy.
HKUST scientists discover how RNA PoII maintains accurate transcription with super computer
Scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have recently uncovered the mechanisms of how RNA polymerase II performs intrinsic cleavage reaction to proofread RNA transcriptions, shedding light on how misregulation of accurate transcription can lead to diseases including cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Transcription factor network gets to heart of wood formation
Research on high-level switches that control wood formation has applications in timber, paper and biofuels, as well as making forests healthier.
Gene transcription machinery constrains DNA movements, study suggests
Researchers in Japan have discovered that the DNA inside human cells moves around less when its genes are active.
How transcription factors explore the genome
EPFL scientists have discovered how proteins that regulate gene transcription can scan and bind the genome efficiently.
Biologists find mechanisms that control where transcription factors bind
A team of biologists has determined how transcription factors, which guide gene regulation, function differently in embryonic development.
More Transcription News and Transcription Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.