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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

In their edited volume, Interpreting in Legal Settings, Debra Russell and Sandra Hale have put together a collection of six highly interesting, empirically based papers covering the field of interpreting across six countries and incorporating a number of important theoretical and practical issues. As the title conveys, the contributions share a research focus on interpreting in legal settings. In addition, they are divided substantively between interpreting for the deaf and interpreting for hearing persons. The data come from Israel, Austria, Denmark, Australia, Canada, and Malaysia, from a set of highly reputable scholars in the interpreting field. The chapters are reviewed below in the order in which they appear in the volume.

Ruth Morris�s contribution, �Taking Liberties? Duplicity or the Dynamics of Court Interpreting,� focuses on the frequent accusation leveled at interlingual interpreters that the errors they make are due to treason or duplicity, and convincingly demonstrates why this is rarely the case and why it is an unjustifiable criticism of those who work in legal settings. In her analysis of the 1987 trial in Jerusalem of Ivan (John) Demjanjuk � a Ukrainian speaker who had been living in the United States for about 35 years and who was accused in Israel of having been the gas chamber operator at the Treblinka concentration camp during World War II � Morris makes the case that if interpreters are �expected to consistently betray the court�s expectations of completeness and fidelity� (p. 1), it is because they �can be placed by other participants in legal proceedings in a position in which they are required � or encouraged or allowed � to use differing degrees of power and latitude in performing their role of interlingual mediation� (p.5). Specifically, the author shows how the principal interpreter at the trial, whose interpretations from English to Hebrew are the object of analysis in the chapter, in a sense acted as a gatekeeper who to some degree controlled the flow of information and had �significant power to manipulate channels of communication� (p.22, as quoted in O�Barr & O�Barr 1976: 22). So, while Morris acknowledges that the interpreter exhibited manipulative behavior in her work role, it was not because she was �unscrupulous, incompetent, irresponsible, lazy, or unaware of what she was doing, nor by any stretch of the imagination unethical. Rather, at times she deliberately adjusted her renderings pursuant to instructions from the bench, to whom she saw herself as ultimately responsible, or requests from the witness who was being questioned through the medium of her interpretation (p.22�23). Thus, rather than acting as a conduit or machine, the chief interpreter �was trying to contribute to the communication process taking place in the courtroom as effectively as she could, at times balancing conflicting demands and expectations, some overt and some unspoken� (p.23). Because of the complex dynamics of the interpreting situation presented by this trial (e.g., some witnesses testified in Yiddish, when only one of the three judges on the adjudicating panel understood the language; the judges� comprehension of English varied greatly; Demjanjuk�s original defense attorney was from the United States and did not understand Hebrew; German and Russian interpreting had to be added at some points), the main interpreter often took on the role of gatekeeper, editor, and mediator. At the same time, at many points during the multi-year long event, the presiding judge blamed the interpreter for what appeared to him to be lack of comprehension on the part of the defense counsel and counsel�s objections to the interpreter�s lexical choices (e.g., the use of �Lower camp� versus �Camp 1� in reference to a concentration camp, a distinction that became a major point of contention among a witness, a defense counsel, and the presiding judge). Speed of delivery of attorney questions and its adverse impact on the interpreter became another sore point at the trial. In short, for numerous reasons, Morris argues, the Demjanjuk trial demonstrates �how interpreters can be placed by other participants in legal proceedings in a position in which they are required � or encouraged or allowed to use differing degrees of power and latitude in performing their role of interlingual mediation� (p. 5).

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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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