Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

On Impartiality and Neutrality: A Diagrammatic Tool as a Visual Aid

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

On Impartiality and Neutrality: A Diagrammatic Tool as a Visual Aid

Article excerpt


The idea of re-visiting the subject of the interpreter's role in community interpreting (CI) settings may sound tedious to some, as the topic has been under the microscope for some time (Brune et al., 2003; Carr et al., 1997; Carr et al., 2000). However, as Ozolins (2007) remarked in his closing speech at the Fifth Critical Link conference, it is an area that keeps attracting our attention, and while the subject of the discussion seems to be the same, the focus has shifted. Posited within this discourse, I would now like to present an interpreter-mediated forensic psychology session as a basis for introducing diagrammatic representations of interpreter role definitions. My aim is not to redefine the role of the interpreter, but to offer a simple representational tool. I propose that such a tool could aid the understanding and explanation of abstract notions such as neutrality or impartiality to practising or trainee interpreters.

The basic scenario took place between a child, aged 9, a forensic psychologist and an interpreter. I have chosen this particular scenario because the service provider professional is a forensic psychologist working in a field which lies at the crossroads of psychological and legal domains (Adler, 2004). As a result, interpreting in this scenario can be characterised either as mental health or as legal interpreting, which can pose difficulties. As will be seen in the following sections, CI has often been classified into two main areas, the fields of law and medicine. In broad terms, the former comprise court, police, asylum proceedings or any other settings involving representatives of the law, while the latter includes hospitals, mental health care and often social welfare. Thus, the junction of these two general subfields of CI should provide food for thought and consideration.

The meeting in question had been set up during legal proceedings where the father of the child had filed a case against the mother based on the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The mother had taken their son from their home country without the father's written consent and had been residing in the host country for over a year. By law, the child should have been returned to the country of origin, but mother and son pleaded that they were afraid the father would be abusive on their return. The court wanted to substantiate their argument and asked an independent forensic psychologist to provide an expert opinion of the child's plea. As the child and the forensic psychologist did not speak the same language, an interpreter was employed to aid their communication.

Prior to the actual interpreter-mediated session with the forensic psychologist, the child in the mother's presence and with her approval and encouragement disclosed to the interpreter that they actually intended to return to their country of origin. This contradicted their plea which was based on their fear that on their return they would be reunited with the father. However, during the interpreter-mediated session, the child, this time on his own with the forensic psychologist and the interpreter, repeatedly claimed that he did not want to return to the country of origin at all. The question is, how could the interpreter keep to the professional guidelines of neutrality and / or impartiality in a perceived conflictual situation like this?

On the one hand, there may be expectations from the forensic psychologist that the interpreter should disclose information they had obtained about the client. During the submission process of the current article an anonymous reviewer from a psychology background commented that such course of action would be encouraged and expected by mental health professionals on the basis that if "the interpreter withholds information from the psychologist that would alter the professional judgement of the psychologist, then the interpreter has short-changed another professional. …

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