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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Interpreting in Legal Settings

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Professional Norms

The role-related phenomena described earlier mainly concern what is done in the interaction, and by whom. The following sections, on the other hand, address the question of how it is done, with special reference, of course, to the performance of the interpreters.

As defined by Chesterman (1993, p. 8), “[p]rofessional norms are the norms constituted by competent professional behaviour.” These are subordinate to what he calls “expectancy norms,” which are the correctness notions brought to bear on translational output by the users or addressees of the target text. Admittedly, it is not always easy to make a clear-cut distinction between the interpreter’s professional role (which implies norm-guided behavior) and professional or performance norms (which would be founded on the adoption of a particular role). This conceptual complexity notwithstanding, the focus on translational norms, particularly of the textual-linguistic kind, helps foreground features of interpreting performance that are often cited as the crucial standards of professional interpreting. Summarized by Harris (1990, p. 118) as the “true interpreter norm,” these will be examined here with regard to the expectation of accuracy and completeness as well as the professional interpreting norm that “the interpreter speaks in the first person” (Harris, p. 115).

u s e   o f   f i r s t   p e r s o n

Without going into the more elaborate conceptual framework proposed by Bot (2005), which accounts for the use of reporting verbs as well as the “perspective of person,” there are two basic options for the interpreter’s pronoun use in rendering utterances in which speakers make reference to themselves. One is to adopt the grammatical first person as used by the speaker, and the other is to reserve the first person for the interpreter’s own ‘I’ and refer to the speaker in the third person, thus assuming the footing of principal, with responsibility for the content and form of the message. In the former case, adopting the much-cited conduit role, interpreters are only (re-)formulating others’ talk and remain without a speaker perspective of their own (i.e., invisible) whereas in the latter they speak as a third party to one primary participant about another. The following excerpt, taken from the very beginning of a hearing, illustrates the classic first-person interpreting approach (cf. also Diriker, 2004).

example 5: T5H1 (00:11–00:24)
1    ADJ   Mein Name ist VORNAME NACHNAME, ich bin das für Ihr Berufungsverfahren hier zuständige
                Senatsmitglied des Unabhängigen Bundesasylsenates.
                My name is FIRST NAME SURNAME, I am the member of the Independent Federal Asylum Review
                Board in charge of your appeal proceedings.

2    INT   My name is Doctor SURNAME. I am the member of the Senate dealing with your appeal proceedings.

As regards pronoun use, INT strictly maintains the speaker perspective of ADJ (“My name,” “I am”). In other respects, more relevant to the subsections below, there are interesting deviations, such as the addition of ADJ’s academic degree before (only) the surname (which would be common practice in German more so than in English) and the omission of the institution’s official name, which reduces ADJ’s affiliation to “member of the Senate.”

Example 6, which is again an excerpt from an early stage of the proceedings, illustrates the opposite approach, adopted by the vast majority of the interpreters in our study.

example 6: T6H1 (04:12–04:24)
1    ADJ   Gut. Ich möchte Ihnen nun ganz kurz ? zeigen, welche Art von Unterlagen wir in Ihrem Akt haben.
                Alright. I would now like to show you briefly what kind of documents we have in your file.
2    INT   Mhm. The Chairman of the Asylum Board will now just go through all the documents that he has, that you have
                presented.

Whereas ADJ uses the direct form of address (“I” → “you”) in explaining to APP that he is about to enter into stage 3 of the hearing, that is, summarizing the case based on the documents on file, INT opts for a change of speaker perspective and renders the statement in “indirect translation” (Bot, 2005). This creates the need to designate ADJ in his official capacity. However, INT’s terminological choice (“Chairman of the Asylum Board”) is incorrect; the IFARB has dozens of individual “members” serving as adjudicators, but only one “Chairperson” for the institution as such.

No less problematic is INT’s statement regarding the documents in APP’s file, not all of which have been “presented” by APP. This applies in particular to the written record of the first-instance proceedings, which serves as critical evidence in ADJ’s endeavor to probe APP’s credibility. But again, this is not a matter of pronoun use but one of accuracy, as dealt with in the following section.


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