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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Interpreting in Legal Settings

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While INT’s initiative (4) makes APP understand that some specification is needed (5), INT interrupts her with an explicit prompt (6) before he registers APP’s answer, which he renders in German (8) after a brief clarification turn (6, 7). Before completing his rendition, however, INT volunteers a comment to ADJ about the denomination in question. APP’s answer is subsequently recorded upon repeated dictation by ADJ (11, 13), who then proceeds to ask a follow-up question about APP’s religious practice (13). As in the earlier part of this sequence, INT reacts immediately to APP’s—here somewhat indignant—response, expressing disapproval with the seemingly insufficient answer (“Yes, but but-”) and venturing into some extensive reasoning before taking note of the second part of her reply (16). Again, a clarification turn precedes INT’s German rendition (18), which is repeated by ADJ for inclusion in the record. When this has been accomplished by REC during a six-second pause, ADJ finally turns to INT, a court-certified interpreter with many years of experience in legal settings with whom she is working for the first time, and politely requests him not to ask questions on his own initiative (19).

In contrast to this particular IFARB member’s preference for a more restricted role of the interpreter in the interviewing process, other adjudicating officials in our study showed fewer qualms about letting the interpreters conduct their own sub-hearings with the asylum seekers. The following example is a particularly striking case of such interpreter-led interviewing. After ADJ’s standard question as to whether APP had been going to school or working before leaving his home country (1), INT proceeds to elicit APP’s complete educational background—and much more.

example 3: T1H1 (06:20–07:39): “How many years? . . . Did you finish?”
1    ADJ   Haben Sie einen Beruf ausgeübt? Oder waren Sie in einer Ausbildung?
                Were you working? Or were you attending school?
2    INT   Did you work? Or did you study?
3    APP   Yeah, I went to primary school at the age of seven,
4    INT   Mhm.
5    APP   so I finished up primary school for six years, so-
6    INT                                                                       Ich- Ich trat mit sieben
                Jahren in die Grundschule ein, °° °° °° °° °° °° absolvierte diese für
                sechs Jahre °°                                              I- I started primary
                school at the age of seven,                         attended this school
                for six years °°
                (→APP) So six years of primary school?
7    APP   Yeah, so after one year for my- for the written result then I proceeded
                 to secondary school.
8    INT   Nach einem Jahr °° Warten °° kam ich
                After one year °° of waiting °° I was sent
9    APP                                                 Then-
10  INT   in die Sekundarschule. (→APP) How many years of secondary school?
                to secondary school.
11  APP   Two years, only two years.
12  ADJ   (→REC) in die Sekundarschule °° °° °° °° °° Sekund- so wie Sekund,
                Sekundar to secondary school                      second- like second,
13  REC   Mhm.
14  INT   Did you finish secondary school?
15  APP   No I didn’t finish.
16  INT   Ich besuchte die Sekundarschule für zwei Jahre °° °° °° °° °° °° ° und
                schloss sie °° aber nicht ab. °°
                I attended secondary school for two years                               but
                did not         finish it.
                (→APP) So two years of secondary school, and then?

APP does not understand ADJ’s question as referring to the time just before his flight, but starts to recount his formal education from primary school onwards (3). INT is aware that APP’s statement about starting school at age seven is not what ADJ is after; rather than translating it, INT signals APP to continue (“Mhm.”). Only when complete information about primary schooling has become available (5), does she cut in to offer her German rendition (5). The question she then addresses to APP might appear like a request for confirmation; in fact, though, it exemplifies this interpreter’s key strategy in eliciting APP’s account. Using an intonation contour that signals recapitulation as well as an invitation to continue, INT moves the interview forward without the need for ADJ to intervene. Indeed, the latter’s role appears to be limited to supervising REC’s typing of INT’s renditions, at times repeating parts of them and assisting REC in case of orthographic doubts (12).

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