Interpreting as creating a potential for understanding

insights from a Danish courtroom

Authors

  • Martha Sif Karrebæk University of Copenhagen
  • Solvej H. Sørensen University of Copenhagen

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.19649

Keywords:

Interpreting, courtroom, sociolinguistics, understanding, verbatim translation

Abstract

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.

Author Biographies

Martha Sif Karrebæk, University of Copenhagen

Martha Sif Karrebæk, PhD, is Associate Professor in Danish and Danish as a second language at the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen. She has published on child second language socialisation, language and food, mother tongue education, hybrid language practices and linguistic hegemony in education, among other things. She is currently the PI of a project on interpreting in the public sector in Denmark.

Solvej H. Sørensen, University of Copenhagen

Solvej H. Sørensen, is employed as a research assistant on the project on interpreting in the public sector. She holds an MA degree in the psychology of language and Arabic from University of Copenhagen. Her MA was earned on a study of interpreter mediated court hearings.

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Published

2021-10-15

How to Cite

Karrebæk, M. S., & Sørensen, S. H. . (2021). Interpreting as creating a potential for understanding: insights from a Danish courtroom. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 28(1), 59–97. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.19649

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Articles