Linguistic challenges of an English-dominant legal system in the Philippines

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In the Philippines, the English-only policy dominates the legal domain, despite the fact that there are at least 175 different languages in the country. As English remains the language of the educated elite, many Filipinos who do not belong to this circle are unnecessarily marginalized by this English-only policy. Whether or not they are proficient in the form of English expected in courtrooms, these Filipinos participate in courtroom talk using whatever linguistic resources or codes are available to them. Attempts by the government to introduce the national language in the courts have had very limited success and prospects for using other Philippine languages remain dim. This article presents the challenges legal stakeholders face in dealing with non-dominant language speakers. I argue that, given the Outer Circle, multilingual context of the Philippines, alternative approaches to courtroom talk must be considered to ensure a more inclusive language policy for the Philippines.