Pragmalinguistic challenges for trainee interpreters in achieving accuracy
An analysis of questions and their interpretation in five cross-examinations
In cross-examination, questions are used by counsel as powerful tools to control witness testimonies. In bilingual courtrooms, conveying the subtlety in the use of questions from one language to another is crucial for all participants. However, achieving a high level of accuracy is extremely demanding due to the intricacy of courtroom discourse and the complexity of interpreting in such an institutional setting. Drawing on a moot court exercise at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, this study investigates the most common pragmalinguistic challenges for trainee interpreters in achieving accuracy when interpreting cross-examination questions from English to Mandarin. Findings show that it can be challenging to produce pragmatically accurate renditions: Mandarin interpretations have an overall weakened illocutionary force compared to the original English questions. In particular, declaratives, reported speech declaratives, modal interrogatives, and tag questions are found to be difficult to interpret into Mandarin. This paper also explores the way the illocutionary force of the interpreted questions deviates from the original and the possible causes for this shift. Findings point to the need to enhance pragmatic competence among trainee interpreters, which in turn will require specialised training for interpreters working in legal settings.
Keywords: cross-examination questions, interpreting accuracy, pragmalinguistic challenges, interpreter training
Published online: 10 April 2020
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