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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 Interpreting, the International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting, cont'd.

The second contribution to the volume, “Interpreting in Asylum Appeal Hearings: Roles and Norms Revisited,” by Waltraud Kolb and Franz Pöchhacker, presents the results of an empirical study of interpreting practices in appellate phase asylum interviews at Austria’s Independent Federal Asylum Review Board (IFARB). Applying an ethnographic data-gathering methodology and using both functionalist translation theory (i.e., skopos theory) and interactional discourse analysis following Wadensjö (1998) as their theoretical framework, the authors examine 25 hours of audio-taped interviews with appellants from three Anglophone African countries. Consistent with the findings of other scholars who have been observing the role of interpreters at asylum hearings, Kolb and Pöchhacker find that interpreters do not act as ‘neutral linguistic mediators,” hut instead, often “take on tasks that go far beyond an interpreter’s normative role as laid down in professional codes of ethics and standards of practice, and these extended roles are ostensibly ratified by the adjudicators in the interaction” (p.46). Providing evidence from their corpus, the authors show how some interpreters take on an “active co-interviewer role” using various strategies to elicit narratives from asylum seekers (p.46). By facilitating information gathering, especially from persons whose answers are vague and difficult to understand, interpreters “become agents of institutional efficiency” (p. 46). For the authors, the most striking finding of the study is that most adjudicators expected interpreters to co-produce the written record, and when interpreters did so, they would go so far as to accommodate themselves to the typing speed of the recording clerk and even provide the clerk with instructions for punctuation (p.47). Kolb and Pöchhacker’s findings are consistent with those of others who have found that interpreters in general are neither neutral nor invisible, and that this is true of asylum hearings as well. Furthermore, such deviations from the expected norm are equally true of the appellate level of asylum hearings as they are of first- instance hearings.

The third contribution to the book, by Bente Jacobsen, deals with “Court Interpreting and Face: An Analysis of a Court Interpreter’s Strategies for Conveying Threats to Own Face.” Set in a Copenhagen Danish city court, the object of Jacobsen’s analysis is a prosecutor’s questioning of a defendant in a criminal trial, viewed in the framework of Brown and Levinson’s (1987) theory of politeness. The analysis also relies on Schiffrin’s (1988) concept of discourse markers and on conversation analysis (CA) for its transcription conventions. Jacobsen’s thesis is that, in certain situations, interpreters will attempt to clarify ambiguous utterances as well as mitigate threatening ones, and [.1 do so not only to attend to the face of primary participants, but because they fear that the content of the utterances will reflect on them. They are motivated by the fear that ambiguous or confrontational utterances may he perceived by intended receivers as reflecting the professional skills or attitude of the interpreters, rather than the skills or attitude of the original speakers (p. 55).

Jacobsen’s analysis of the data is well supported on the whole. However, at times her interpretation of a speaker’s questions or answers as being face-threatening is itself hedged and not fully committed to its assertion. The following two statements exemplify such hedging: “By requesting clarification, the defendant potentially (emphasis added) threatened the positive face of both the prosecutor and the interpreter” (p. 58); “Extracts 3 and 4 demonstrate how the prosecutor’s requests for confirmation of some of the content of the defendant’s answer were omitted by the interpreter in what might have been (emphasis added) an attempt to save her own positive face as well as the face of the intended receiver, the defendant” (p. 39). Perhaps the need to guess at the intentions underlying a speaker’s utterance or to conjecture about his/her understanding of an interlocutor’s statements are part and parcel of putting into practice Brown and Levinson’s theory of facework, and so Jacobsen is not to be faulted for often needing to guess what the speakers meant by their utterances. Nevertheless, her analyses are often couched in language that conveys great tentativeness, and so the reader is left wondering if face-preservation is in fact the principal explanation behind a given speaker’s words.

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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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