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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 final contribution to the volume, “Legal Interpreting and the Deaf Community in Malaysia,” by Zubaidah Ibrahirn-Bell, is a sociolinguistically contextualized empirical study involving surveys of seven Malaysian signed language interpreters, on the one hand, and the president of the Malaysian Foundation for the Deaf (MDF), on the other. The surveys used written questionnaires, sent to the respondents via e-mail. ‘While the size of the sample is quite small, the findings are highly interesting, but perhaps even more interesting is the author’s explanation of the complex sociolinguistic situation that characterizes Malaysia (i.e., the fact that Malaysia has one official language, Malay, the language of the majority indigenous community; one “promoted language,” English, the language of the colonizers; three “supported languages,” Mandarin, Tamil, and Malaysian Signed Language; at least three recognized languages of public worship (Arabic, Sanskrit, and Pali); and a number of “tolerated languages:’ i.e., those that are neither proscribed nor supported by the government (p. 149). As interesting as Ibrahim-Bell’s description of Malaysia’s sociolinguistic profile is her review of the status of signed language interpreting in Malaysia and the use of signed language interpreters in the country’s courts. One notable feature that bears on the use of interpreters is that “there is no court stenographer, clerk, or mechanical device to keep a record of the proceedings and no audio or video recordings may be made by third parties. The presiding officer in the High Court is required by the CPC (Criminal Procedure Code) to make notes in his own hand’ (p. 152).

Ibrahim-Bells surveys, which she analyzes qualitatively, bring to light four major areas of concern: (1) interpreter competence, including their training and qualifications, and the role of teachers as interpreters; (2) the impact of witness and defendant illiteracy; (3) the multiple roles of the interpreter; and (4) issues concerning professionalism and good practice. Her major findings are that (1) Malaysian courts rely on interpreters who are incompetent for various reasons (e.g., the courts do not bother to check interpreters’ credentials or whether they have had training or experience in the profession, on the premise that being bilingual is a sufficient qualification); (2) very often deaf people who have not learned any signed language appear in court (requiring the use of two interpreters and a relay system); (3) with respect to multiple roles, “the SL interpreter is often expected to be more than an interpreter. In different contexts, and even in one single interpreting sitting, they may function as confidante, co-worker, assistant, advocate, and counselor” (p. 164); (4) with respect to professional concerns, all the interpreters who participated in the survey complained that occasionally they had been treated as volunteers, or else had not been paid at a professional rate for their work. One intriguing finding was that Malaysian courts generally work with their own resident interpreters, who are civil servants and are considered by the courts to be impartial, whereas SL interpreters are seen as partial and as having a closeness to their deaf clients (p. 160). In short, Ibrahim-Bell’s study, while limited in its data-base, provides rich, important findings.

This edited volume is an excellent collection of empirically grounded studies. It would be a useful text for any scholar who does research in this field and ideal for graduate or advanced undergraduate level courses. With its wide variety of research methodologies and abundance of important findings, this is a book very much worth reading.

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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