International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 26, No 2 (2019)

An illusion of understanding: how native and non-native speakers of English understand (and misunderstand) their Miranda rights

Aneta Pavlenko, Elizabeth Hepford, Scott Jarvis
Issued Date: 2 Mar 2020


The purpose of the Miranda rights in the USA is to ensure that suspects know their fundamental rights under the law, yet even native speakers of English do not always understand their rights (Rogers, Rogstad, Gillard, Drogin, Blackwood and Shuman, 2010; Rogers, Rogstad, Steadham and Drogin, 2011). To evaluate their understanding, Grisso (1998) developed Miranda Rights Comprehension Instruments (MRCI), normed with native speakers and widely accepted in the legal community. Comprehension by second language (L2) speakers of English, on the other hand, is inferred based on their L2 proficiency, but no studies to date offer the scientific basis for causal connections between L2 proficiency and understanding of the Miranda rights. The purpose of the present study was to compare understanding of the Miranda rights among native (n = 82) and advanced L2 speakers of English (n = 183) to determine whether standardised assessments of L2 proficiency can predict comprehension of the Miranda rights. Our results show that most of our L2 participants failed to understand their Miranda rights and displayed significant disadvantages in basic level processing in comparison to native speakers. Furthermore, they were unaware of the failure: using linguistic resources at their disposal these advanced L2 speakers constructed alternative meanings that created an illusion of understanding.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.39163


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Cases cited

Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 157 (1986).

Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000).

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).


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