Interpreter-mediated drafting of written records in police interviews: A case study

Bart Defrancq and Sofie Verliefde
Ghent University | Independent scholar

Text drafting is an essential component of many of the contexts in which interpreters are called in to ensure communication (Määttä 2015). As Komter (2006) shows, the drafting process itself can be considered a turn in the interaction. Interpreters involved in such contexts thus perform a communicative pas de quatre, crossing not only the language divide, but also the modal divide (oral vs. written). In this paper, we analyse how an interpreter in a Belgian police interview handles this complex task. It appears that she procedurally and declaratively recognises a written turn in the interaction and uses its authoritative voice to silence the witness by sight-translating the turn as it is being typed on the screen. In line with previous research on interpreters’ handling of dialogues (Hale 1997), the interpreter also shapes turns, including the written turn, to the needs of the addressees: upgrading the register properties of the interviewee’s talk and downgrading those of the written turn.

Publication history
Table of contents

Text drafting is an essential component of many of the contexts in which interpreters are called in to ensure communication (Määttä 2015). Police interviews in many continental European countries, asylum interviews, medical consultations, etc. typically result in written records drafted by an institutional representative. Actually, the drafting of a written record is often the main communicative goal of the oral proceedings, promoting the presence of written features in the oral exchanges. Research has shown that interviewees are mostly unfamiliar with the ideology of objectivity and neutrality carried by written records, unaware of the role of written discourse and written reporting of oral testimonies and unaware of crucial aspects, such as terminology, syntax, etc., of written reporting. Therefore, users fail to do what is expected of them, running the risk of not being able to fully exercise their rights (Blommaert 2001; Maryns and Blommaert 2002; Pöllabauer 2004).

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