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Interpreting in Legal Settings

Debra Russell and
Sandra Hale, Editors

Now in Paperback!

View the table of contents.
View the list of contributors.
Read chapter two.
Read reviews: The Midwest Book Review, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Interpreting.


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The Fourth Volume in the Studies in Interpretation Series

From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

Judge Learned Hand said “(j)ustice is the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society, and I don’t believe there is any royal road to attain such accommodation concretely”. Although committed to justice, he knew it was not easily or consistently achieved. Regardless, judges, lawyers and, now, spoken and sign language interpreters continue to labor to attain justice for all participants in court proceedings.

Until recently, deaf people, disabled citizens, and non-English speaking people in the United States were denied the right to legal proceedings in their native languages, as well as denied the right to serve on juries. Now, state and federal laws mandate provision of qualified sign and spoken language interpretation in the courtroom. These relatively new laws beg the question of whether or not providing interpreting services achieves justice for those who rely on it.

Failing to heed Bismarck’s famous admonishment that no one should see how laws and sausages are made, the authors collected thought-provoking qualitative and quantitative research worldwide to inform and advance professionals who provide interpretation of court proceedings. They note that interpreting in legal settings is “technical, traumatic, ethically challenging, sometimes amusing, and frequently demanding.”

Although at first glance, the research appears to be a valuable resource primarily for interpreters, it deserves a much broader audience. Historians, jurists, and linguists alike will revel in the analysis of the ethical and linguistic challenges faced by the interpreters in the 1987 trial in Jerusalem of Ivan (John) Demjanjuk. Much was learned from the analysis of how interpreters’ deviation from their standard roles and commitment of discourse errors as well as how the interpreters’ fear of making these mistakes can alter the understanding of the participant’s meaning. Lawyers and judges will appreciate the combination of qualitative and quantitative research conducted in New Zealand to measure the effectiveness of interpreting for deaf jurors. A Canadian and American research team offers insight into team interpreting and perceptions of the team’s competence by witnesses, judges, and lawyers. The final chapter notes the daunting challenges facing both spoken and sign language interpreters in Malaysia.

The authors agree with Judge Hand that the essence of justice has yet to be fully understood or achieved in the modern courtroom. They succeed, however, in doing what he feared could not be done, provide conclusions from research done “concretely”. With a scientific approach to interpreting, they present analyses, theories, and perspectives based on qualitative and quantitative data. These “concrete” findings will form the foundation and common language for academic scholars, legal practitioners, and interpreters in courtrooms across the world.

The authors’ scientific approach to courtroom interpretation has made justice more attainable in two ways. First, it unites judicial systems all over the world in the effort to understand how the use of language and those who interpret it are vital to the delivery of justice. Second, it validates and protects the right of those who speak, or sign, a language different from the one used in a courtroom. Although the march toward justice remains long, this scholarly discussion of how spoken and sign language interpretation impacts the judicial process will shorten the journey. This book is a great step in the direction of justice.

Debra Russell is Director of the Western Canadian Centre of Studies in Deafness and is the David Peikoff Chair of Deafness Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada.

Sandra Hale is Associate Professor of Interpreting and Translation at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

ISBN 978-1-56368-550-7, ISSN 1545-7613, 6 x 9 paperback, 204 pages, tables, figures, references, index


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