When it comes to defining professionalism I’m a bit old school; to me, it is a two-way street. I mean that the true determinant of a professional is neither being paid or the rate of the pay itself – ideally that merely reflects success in the market place – but the degree of accountability given by the profession. That may well sound like a somewhat meaningless truism but when applied to the current state of court interpreting in the United States, at least based on my own observations and experiences in Nevada and California, I’m not so sure we can collectively truly claim that we own that gold standard. What guarantee can we really offer an objectively observing layperson that we truly do a good job as qualified and professional state court interpreters?
For the latest, check here.
For quite a while now, I am seeing Samsung advertisements aired here in Reno – and I trust elsewhere, too – hawking some phone, purportedly of the smart type. It points out that even the included pen is so smart that it has its own brain! Unfortunately however its makers are less so gifted, considering the curious errors displayed fairly prominently, starting at the 42nd second of this ad:
Did you see that? Here is the screen shot:
[Read more…] about Annoying spelling errors in Samsung TV ads aired in the US
It’s not so much unusual for neologisms that are adopted from another language to have a very concrete meaning, which is far more specific than the word as used in the original language. A more or less random example is the term factoring as used in business Dutch, with that very particular meaning explained in the Wikipedia article. Yet in English that term can also be used in reference to an algebraic operation. I just came upon an interesting and quite visual example in a much more common word: sombrero, the word for “hat” which in Spanish is just as its English equivalent quite generic.
[Read more…] about An interesting illustration of semantic specificity and cultural dominance
During an appeal hearing for a non-English-speaker who had been convicted, sentenced and incarcerated for many years, I served as Court Interpreter. In the course of the appeal proceeding, both the Prosecutor and Judge referred to the translated transcript of statements made during interrogation by police as irrefutable evidence that the petitioner had confessed to the crime. The appellant consistently and vehemently denied that he had ever made such a confession and that the statement attributed to him in the English transcript was “a lie.”
Being keenly aware of the potential for error existing in translated transcripts, particularly when both functions are performed by a single individual without benefit of review by another having the ability to confirm accuracy, comparison of the original statement recorded in Spanish with the subsequent translated transcript in English was indicated. When statements made in another language are then transcribed and translated, the slightest errors in the former can be exponentially multiplied in the latter. During a recess, review and comparison of the oral statement in question with the transcript and its translation were performed by myself and another certified court interpreter pressed into service, independent of each other. (This process was made more difficult and time-consuming due to the transcript not being time-stamped and the translated transcript being an entirely separate document.)
The alleged confession attributed to the accused in the English transcript, which had been assumed to accurately reflect the statement made in Spanish was, in fact, never uttered. The inaccurately translated transcript had transformed a spoken hypothetical into an absolute statement of guilt. The erroneous addition of an accent and comma resulted in “if” spoken in Spanish becoming “yes” in the translation – damning evidence upon which the Prosecution and Bench relied during trial and sentencing. Suffice it to say that reactions to this revelation ranged from outraged horror to relieved vindication.
[Read more…] about The Devil is in the Details
Transcription to translation & beyond
Imagine you are an attorney, let’s say practicing criminal law. It doesn’t matter here whether you are counsel for the defense or the prosecution. You are working on a criminal case where the defendant faces serious consequences in the event of a conviction. Let’s also assume that the statements made by a witness during police investigation are crucial for the outcome of the case. Last but not least, to complete our trial scenario: unlike everyone else present in the courtroom, the witness does not speak English very well, so an accredited court interpreter will assist with the testimony.
That key witness is now on the stand during trial and it is your turn to question earlier statements, referring to a copy of the transcript. You ask the witness under oath a question about an essential issue that was also addressed during the earlier police interview to probe whether witness statements are consistent.
According to popular belief, trial lawyers don’t ask questions to which they don’t already know the answers. In this instance, the witness gives a fundamentally different answer, in apparent contradiction with the earlier statement. In such a situation, the text of the earlier statement might be presented to the witness to inquire about that contradiction, with a question such as: “Is it not true that in your statement [made on such-and-such date, in such-and-such place and circumstance] you said, and I quote: […] ?” The witness emphatically denies having made the earlier statement: “I have never said anything like that!”
The witness was truthful in his statement to police, a well as on the stand.
How can that be? Perhaps a more pertinent question here is: why would a court interpreter, i.e. the author of this article, address witness credibility? Let’s rewind to an earlier frame of our fictitious trial scene to unravel the mystery…