The Linguist

The Linguist 58,5 - October/November 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES @Linguist_CIOL octoBer/noVemBer The Linguist 13 on the other hand, in cases where a party's own interpreter is present, they may be ordered to interpret throughout the hearing except when the party is testifying in the witness box. at this point, the court interpreter is expected to spring into action. the whole situation is a lottery. Misconceptions of the court once the hearing begins, with me sitting in the dock between a security guard and the defendant, the defendant elects only to use me "when necessary". the judge tells the jury "this will make life easier for everyone". not for me though, as I have to remain constantly alert and take notes of dates, names and so on, as the defendant may require my services at any minute. I am reassured by the judge's instructions to the defence and prosecution counsel "to speak slowly and clearly for the defendant's benefit" (he doesn't mention mine), until he starts speaking rapidly and talking about 'balderdash'! at this point, I indicate to the judge that the court needs to take the presence of the interpreter into account, because if I get it wrong the defendant will get it wrong, with potentially serious consequences. some judges are more receptive to this sort of intervention than others. Fortunately, the defendant doesn't ask me to interpret 'balderdash' – had he done so I would have used the word bêtises ('rubbish'). the defendant asks me a question about eligibility for jury service. I tell him that my sole function is to interpret and that I am not permitted to give him advice. I again alert the judge, who instructs the defendant to refrain from talking to me. It is relatively common for defendants to ask their interpreters for guidance. this is due to a lack of understanding about the role of the interpreter, and it is even more common when defendants are unrepresented – a situation which is increasing due to legal aid cuts. transcripts of the victim's 999 call are then handed to counsel, the judge and the jury – but not to the defendant and me. I have to request a copy for the dock. a harrowing recording is played – the victim is sobbing and drunk, her speech is slurred and she has a strong glaswegian accent. everyone struggles to understand what is being said and the transcript has a lot of gaps. Tricky phrases as usual, I use the lunch break to check terminology in the transcript. 'gantry' turns out to be a type of alleyway. I eat but don't drink so I won't need a 'comfort break' during the afternoon sitting. the hearing resumes with the victim giving evidence from behind a screen, so that we can hear her from the dock but not see her. the use of screens to protect vulnerable witnesses is very common in sensitive cases such as sexual offences. the interpreter is obliged to rely solely on the witness's voice without the benefit of seeing their body language. the victim is distressed and her speech is difficult to follow. not surprisingly, the defendant asks me to interpret the whole of her testimony, which lasts for two hours. counsel spends some time debating her use of the term 'frozen' – does she mean she was very cold or very frightened? I rendered this as paralysé par la peur ('paralysed by fear') vs très froid ('very cold'). on day two, the hearing starts an hour late, which means I can interpret at the pre-hearing conference after all. When the trial resumes, the defendant elects to stand rather than sit while giving evidence in the witness box, which lasts for an hour, so I stand next to him. he is nervous and asks me to interpret everything. much of the examination and cross-examination revolves around blurred cctV footage, which is displayed on screens around the courtroom. our attention is briefly diverted when a party of school children enters the public gallery to watch the proceedings. this happens quite often as part of work experience programmes and can impinge on the interpreter's concentration. luckily this group was spellbound and well behaved. Summing up I try to navigate defence counsel's closing speech. delivered in an impenetrable northern accent, it refers to such interpreter-friendly phrases as 'having a skinful to drink' and 'pull yourself together'. I struggle with 'skinful' and render it trop bu ('too much to drink') but on the way home I realise pissé would have been more in keeping with the more informal register used by the barrister. there wasn't supposed to be a third day but we seriously overrun, so I rearrange my diary overnight and book myself another night's accommodation. the judge sums up and the jury exit to deliberate. While I await their decision, I catch up on emails, work on a translation and consider whether or not to book another night in the hotel just in case. after five hours they return a 'guilty' verdict and the judge warns that a custodial sentence is inevitable. the defendant goes to pieces. I interpret for him during a brief interview with a kindly Probation officer before walking away, job done. One or all of the parties may see a 'shared' interpreter as some kind of spy COURT SCENES Preparing for trial outside court (top); and a courtroom drawing of a legal team with the accused (above) © ronnIe WU |

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