Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Contribution of Prosodic and Paralinguistic Cues to the Translation of Evidentiary Audio Recordings

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Contribution of Prosodic and Paralinguistic Cues to the Translation of Evidentiary Audio Recordings

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study examines accuracy in the translation and transcription of evidentiary audio recordings in the Australian context. Verbatim translation requested by crime agencies and courts is investigated and translation and transcription methods are suggested with reference to conversation analysis. The purpose of evidentiary audio recordings dictates a faithful translation; however, the prevalent 'written to be read' translation and transcription styles used by crime agencies can jeopardise the output, given the problems created in reflecting the speakers' intentions, moods, power and attitudes. The credibility of transcripts when tendered in evidence in court hinges on the quality of the translation. In addition to the stylistic accuracy of the translation of speakers' interactions, the present paper argues that important discursive information exhibited in the suprasegmental features in conversation should be documented on transcripts, including prosodic and paralinguistic elements, such as intonation, timing of responses and volume. When strategically used, these features can help in placing the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, and producing 'audible', 'written to be read as if spoken' texts.

Keywords: Evidentiary audio recordings, transcription and translation, conversation analysis

1. Introduction

Translation of audio recordings is the transfer of meaning from one spoken language to another, which involves the transcription or conversion of speech into a written text. It is a unique field and mode of translation, which is concerned with speech-types having their specific purposes that dictate the translation and transcription approach to be adopted. Audio materials requiring translation and/or transcription include monolingual recordings for research purposes (e.g., Gumperz, 1996; Sacks, 1995), recorded statements (Edwards, 1995; Teichman, 2000) and bilingual material for contrastive analyses (e.g., Bolinger, 1989).

Evidentiary audio recording (EAR) is the spoken material recorded by crime agencies, using various methods, such as listening devices and telephone interception, to track suspected criminal activity. This material may be used as evidence in criminal or civil litigation. Where EAR material is spoken fully or partially in a foreign language, e.g., Arabic in Australia, its transcription involves translation into the official or default language of the country where the material is to be used - English in this context. The transcription and translation (translation for short) of conversation spoken in another language is an established, specialised sub-field of court 'interpreting' (Edwards, 1995). However, despite the potential implications of translations tendered in evidence, and the likelihood of their being scrutinised by the defence and rigorously contested in cross-examination, the scarce literature on the translation of EAR hovers around technicalities and presentation (e.g., Edwards, 1995) rather than the pertinent notion of accuracy. This study attempts to address this deficiency and contribute to a further understanding of the meaning of accuracy in the translation of evidentiary recordings.

1.1 Deficiencies of the prevalent translation practice

In the prevalent translation practice, conversation is treated as written text. Grammar, syntax, structure and vocabulary in conversations in languages other than English (LOTEs) are usually standardised, which obscures or distorts the interlocutors' intentions and sociological information embedded in style and register.

Having the foreign language transcribed alongside its English translation (cf. Edwards, 1995), without having systematic recourse to and documentation of the conversation's prosodic and paralinguistic cues, is marginally useful when it comes to refreshing the memory of the translator or the bilingual reviser of the original in cross-examination. However, this exercise runs the risk of treating the original as a written text in the translation process and in court. …

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