International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 28, No 1 (2021)

Interpreting as creating a potential for understanding: insights from a Danish courtroom

Martha Sif Karrebæk, Solvej H. Sørensen
Issued Date: 15 Oct 2021


According to a widespread norm among legal representatives, legal interpreters should translate verbatim, or at least as close to the source utterance as possible. Yet, sociolinguists have shown repeatedly that the absence of verbatim translation is not inherently problematic. Differences between source utterances and their translations may in fact facilitate understanding. On the basis of a corpus of audio-recordings from a court in Denmark, we analyse differences between a request presented by legal representatives and then the interpreters’ versions. We focus on a routinised and procedural request, usually presented by the prosecutor and addressed to the judge, and very often conveyed in a highly implicit manner. We demonstrate that the interpreters tend to elaborate and add particular types of information in their translation. We argue that the additions facilitate understanding for the accused, as many inferences, based on institutional insight, are needed in order to understand what the prosecutor means. We also point to the paradox that, although interpreters are tasked with creating understanding, it is almost impossible to assess whether they succeed and what insight the accused obtains. This is due to the institutional organisation of the type of court hearing analysed.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.19649


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