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The Importance of Enunciation for Legal Interpreters

The realm of legal interpreting has been marred with controversy over the past several weeks. This following the privatisation of court interpreting services under a new contract signed between Applied Language Solutions and the Ministry of Justice. In the latest of setbacks, a story was brought to our attention regarding an error in an interpreter’s pronunciation which led to the dismissal of a court case. So just how important is clear enunciation in providing a legal interpreting service? How much attention to interpreters need to pay to not only what they say, but also how they say it?

There are many extra-linguistic features that interpreters need to pay attention to in order to provide a successful legal interpreting service. The tone, register, prosody, and of course the meaning of the original speaker’s message needs to be accurately conveyed in the target language for an interpretation to be successful. If any of these factors are missed in a court case for example, then the interpreter risks misinterpreting what has been said, which can have drastic effects on the outcome of the hearing.

Normally, interpreters will work into their native language, which should rule out any chance of mispronunciation or problems in understanding the interpreter. In some cases, however, it may be necessary for an interpreter to work out of their native language. In these cases, it is to be expected that interpreters will retain some aspects of their native accent. If the interpreter is too tied down by their native tongue, however, then problems are likely to arise with regard to understanding the message.

Beaten or Bitten?

In the case mentioned above, the Romanian interpreter heard the word “beaten” from the defendant, and interpreted it as “bitten”. Allegedly the interpreter was aware that a mistake was made but failed to make the court aware of this. It was only when the claimant was asked for additional information on their being bitten, that the judge knew that a mistake had been made. The judge was then forced to call for a re-trial, costing around £25,000.

It is cases like these that remind us just how important quality control is when working with legal interpreters, and how even the smallest mistake can cost the courts time and money.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of correct enunciation in the field of legal interpreting. For information on our legal interpreting service, pay a visit to our website.

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