What distinguishes court interpretation from other types of interpretation?
Court interpretation can refer to any kind of interpretation with a legal context, but mainly that occurs within a court setting. It may take place in the form of simultaneous or consecutive interpretation and can even be carried out at a distance through telephone or internet communication channels, as well as other modes of remote interpretation services. In Malaysia, most court interpretation services are conducted in the form of on-site consecutive interpretation.
The most crucial aspect that sets court interpretation apart from the rest is the emphasis placed on ethical standards. This naturally comes with the structure and importance of court settings; when the liberty and lives of people are on the line, it isn’t surprising that court interpreters are held to the highest ethical standard possible. It is not just the semantic relaying of meaning that matters, but often time the gestures, the stutters, and even “filler” words like “umm” make a difference. The following is referenced by Research Gate:
“….Gonzalez et al. (1991) and O’Tool (1994a) have observed that prosodic elements and paralinguistic features are frequently left uninterpreted, and that a witness’s testimony suffers accordingly. Shlesinger (1991) similarly reports a general tendency on the part of court interpreters to ‘grammticize’ ungrammatical utterances and observes that ‘the overriding tendency of theinterpreter to delete a false start may in fact lead to the omission of a self-correction which, it would seem, was expressly intentional’ (ibid.: 150). Hale (1997) documents consistent patterns of register variation in the courtroom, with interpreters between Spanish and English in Australian courts raising the level of formality when interpreting into English and lowering it when interpreting it into Spanish.”
While an interpreter’s precision and ethical awareness is vital in all settings, when it comes to court interpretation, it can be a matter of life and death.
The training of court interpreters Language proficiency, ethical and cultural awareness, and interpretation experience are among the essential eligibility requirements for court interpreters. However, while necessary, they would not suffice but with a strict adherence to stringent ethical codes. Several aspects related to professional and ethical guidelines, courtroom protocols, presentation concerns, standardized jargon, and cultural nuances are all vital. Considering the uncompromising quality standards and the serious consequences that could be at stake, this cannot be regarded as a matter of interpreters gaining experience and picking up skills as they go; formal training is an absolute requirement for before recruiting new court interpreters.
At Maven International, a comprehensive training is provided to eligible and newly recruited court interpreters. This in-house process is extremely rigorous as we are adamant on maintaining our below 1 % error rate in our long-term cooperation with the Office of The Chief Registrar of the Federal Court of Malaysia.
One of the reasons why court interpretation (and interpretation in the broader sense) is not synonymous with a mere literal translation of words from one language to another is the linguistic and cultural nuance that comes with the job. The relevance of cultural nuance to interpretation is no less than the relevance of language. Aside from words and phrases that could be understood differently in different dialogues of the same language, cultural relevance also extends to mannerisms, gestures, and the tone of speech. For example, certain gestures may imply sarcasm that cannot be derived from a literal understanding of the words. The interpreter being intimately familiar with the source and target languages and their surrounding cultural nuances can help minimize understandings, some of which can be catastrophic as explained above.