The Linguist

The Linguist 59,1 - February/March 2020

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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20 The Linguist Vol/59 No/1 2020 FEATURES Philippe Muriel considers why interpreters might be tempted to break the rules of impartiality As Sarah repeated her client's words in English, she was convinced that she was interpreting a tissue of lies. Accused of people trafficking by the police officer, the suspect seemed to be telling fanciful tales, full of contradictions, with an obvious contempt for the people he had allegedly trafficked. Sarah had interpreted for victims of trafficking in the past and her body language betrayed her feelings as she stared at her client: arms crossed in front of her body, disapproving look, tight lips, a furrowed brow. Public service and community interpreters in the UK are expected to follow an impartial model and they sign a Code of Conduct to that effect when they embark on their career. The CIOL Code of Conduct, for example, states: "Members/chartered linguists will carry out all work impartially… [and] will not accept or carry out work that may result in discrimination of any kind against another individual/group." The concept of impartiality is not hard to understand, but speak to any interpreter working in the public services and they will soon tell you how hard it is to remain impartial at all times. Often, this is because there are pressures on the interpreter to 'take sides'. The service provider may ask for the interpreter's opinion of the client. It is not uncommon to be asked, 'Do you think he is telling the truth?' or 'In your opinion, is her husband pressurising her to make this decision?' One colleague was asked by a solicitor in court to advise on the validity of an ID document. Telephone interpreters often report the service provider asking: 'Do you think the person is drunk or on drugs?' However flattering it may be to be asked for one's advice or 'expertise', in every one of these cases, the answer must be: 'According to the interpreters' code of conduct, I must remain impartial and so cannot give my opinion or advice.' Service providers often have no idea that interpreters even have a code of conduct. It is essential, therefore, that we explain to both parties at the start of the session that we will remain impartial and confidential in accordance with the code. In turn, the client frequently views the interpreter as a kind of 'saviour' or new friend, and wants – even expects – us to go beyond merely interpreting to give advice, help and information. Many times, we are asked for a lift to or from an interview, or for our telephone number so the client can contact us to book appointments or make other phone calls on their behalf. We hear questions such as 'what do you think I should do?' or 'can I trust this doctor?' – all of which tests our social skills in refusing politely but firmly. It is often harder to resist such requests when both client and interpreter are from the same ethnic background because this brings strong cultural pressures to conform to certain The problem with impartiality

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