The Linguist

The Linguist 56,4 – August/September 2017

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/56 No/4 2017 FEATURES A s a former British colony, Hong Kong has inherited the English common law system. The Hong Kong courtroom is, however, in many ways different from other courts where common law is practised, creating a unique legal setting, and specific challenges for the interpreters who work in it. For well over a century, English was the only official language in which laws were enacted and trials conducted. It was not until 1974 that Chinese was given official status, and the Magistrates' Courts could then choose to conduct trials in either Chinese (Cantonese) or English, as they saw fit. This did not, however, result in an immediate switch of the court language from English to Chinese. One of the obvious reasons was that in the 1970s, courts in Hong Kong were predominantly presided over by monolingual English-speaking (ES) expatriates. It was not until the early 1990s that Chinese began to make its way into the Magistrates' Courts, and now such trials are mostly heard in Chinese if all the parties involved are Chinese. Yet to this day, as Hong Kong commemorates the 20th anniversary of the handover of its sovereignty to China, more than half of criminal trials are conducted in English in the High Court, where many cases are presided over and/or represented by ES expatriates. This is in contrast to Hong Kong society, where Cantonese operates as a lingua franca, with about 90% of the populace speaking it in their daily life. As a result, there is an interesting dichotomy between ES legal professionals and non-English-speaking (NES) Chinese litigants, resulting in a constant need for interpreting in court. Interpreting for the linguistic majority Unlike in many jurisdictions, where court interpreters are hired on demand for the benefit of linguistic minorities who do not speak the language of the court, NES litigants in the Hong Kong courtroom are mostly the Cantonese- speaking majority. This accounts for the widespread use of interpreting services in court, as most of the lay participants in court proceedings are not able to testify in English or access trial talk in English without the assistance of the court interpreter. For this reason, all interpreters working between Cantonese and English are full-time staff. From time to time, trials in Hong Kong involve litigants speaking other Chinese dialects or foreign languages, giving rise to the need for occasional minority-language interpreting. The problem with chuchotage In a trial heard in English, legal-lay interactions, such as witness examinations, are usually conveyed through consecutive interpreting (CI). The interpretation is done in open court, with the source language (SL) speaker and interpreter taking turns to speak, and it is thus heard (though not necessarily understood) by all those present. The use of CI during witness examination enables NES participants, including the defendant, to access utterances produced in English and thus to follow the line of evidence or court drama. The use of CI makes the proceedings more transparent and accessible to the Cantonese-speaking majority in court, which at the same time makes the interpreters more prone to criticism by bilingual court personnel. For interactions between the ES legal personnel themselves, or between the legal personnel and the jury or ES witnesses, whispered simultaneous interpreting (SI), professionally known as chuchotage, is commonly adopted. This includes monologues such as counsel's opening/closing speeches and judges' instructions to the jury, as well as testimony given in English. Chuchotage works well, and is commonly adopted, in courts where interpreting is provided for the linguistic minority, for example the defendant. The defendant is usually the only person able to hear the interpretation, and this mode has therefore proved inadequate in the Hong Kong courtroom. In an English-medium trial, the Cantonese-speaking majority in court, including not only the defendant and witnesses, but also spectators in the public gallery, have to rely on the Cantonese interpretation in order to participate in the proceedings. Unlike conference interpreters, who always work in pairs, court interpreters, both in Hong Kong and A legal anomaly Hong Kong courts bring unique challenges, says Eva Ng, as interpreting for the majority is a constant necessity GUARDING JUSTICE The statue of Justicia, blindfolded and bearing scales and sword, at Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal CHVHLR10 VIA WIKIPEDIA (GFDL)

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