Images of the court interpreter
Professional identity, role definition and self-image
Today’s legal system generally demands that the interpreter function as a “faceless voice,” a conduit, that is, in a “neutral” and non-intrusive way. However, research has shown that in practice this is not the case, and interpreters themselves are increasingly coming to see their role as going beyond the narrow linguistic one. This article argues that inevitably, as interpreters exert influence on the proceedings in which they perform, these proceedings have a greater or lesser impact on the interpreters. The researcher often has little if any direct access to the recipients or the providers of interpreting services, and hence court records are generally used as a source of information on attitudes toward interpreters and interpreted events. A seventeenth-century murder trial in England provides valuable insights into views on interpreting on the part of the bench, the clerk of the court, and the accused. In addition, several modern cases are discussed, indicating a gradual change in attitudes, with an increasing emphasis on competency rather than availability, and a greater acceptance of a more comprehensive role for the interpreter. Finally, this article examines a rare case of an interpreter reporting on an interpreted event at which he worked, indicating that the interpreter does not “check his humanity” at the courtroom door.