Court Interpreter Role Playing

June 18, 2016 JAlfonso No comments exist

Emily AlfonsoWhile recently visiting the court to watch my wife and partner Emily interpret, I stepped outside to retrieve something from the car and mentioned to one of the officers that Emily is my wife. The officer became so excited and was happy to meet me.


She enthusiastically said to me, “I love the way your wife interprets! She is so fun to watch! When the judge talks, she takes on the same tone of voice, and she does the same for everyone. She’s like an actress!” While the officer related her thoughts, another officer nodded his head in agreement and said, “Sometimes we like to go in and watch her. Emily is our favorite interpreter!”


Obviously as a husband, I felt very proud of her. But I also know that the Code of Ethics for court interpreters states “interpreters shall perform their duties as unobtrusively as possible.”


Was Emily breaking this principle? Was she perhaps overacting? I went back and reviewed the Code of Ethics and noticed something very interesting. Although I have quoted the entire section for context, the underlined info is what applies.


  1. Accuracy

Source-language speech should be faithfully rendered into the target language by conserving all the elements of the original message while accommodating the syntactic and semantic patterns of the target language. The rendition should sound natural in the target language, and there should be no distortion of the original message through addition or omission, explanation or

paraphrasing. All hedges, false starts and repetitions should be conveyed; also, English words mixed into the other language should be retained, as should culturally-bound terms which have no direct equivalent in English, or which may have more than one meaning. The register, style and tone of the source language should be conserved.


  1. Protocol and Demeanor

Court interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the standards and protocol of the Court, and shall perform their duties as unobtrusively as possible. Court interpreters are to use the same grammatical person as the speaker. When it becomes necessary to assume a primary role in the communication, they must make it clear that they are speaking for themselves.


The Code of Ethics reveals that interpreters need to render the message as closely as possible to the speaker. Tone of voice, style, and register are key, as well as false starts. Therefore, if my sentence has a false start, the interpreter should do the same. For all intents and purposes, the interpreter’s role is to accurately convey the message as if the speaker could speak in that language.


Finally, there is actually a performance occurring. However, there must be balance, since court interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the standards and protocol of the Court.  Although drawing undue attention is inappropriate, being recognized for doing a great job is a source of pride.


Recently, a judge stated to Emily, “I can sometimes be sarcastic. I love it when you interpret because even though I can’t understand what you are saying, I can tell you are sarcastic!”

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