Interpreting the Discourse of Reporting: The Case of Screening Interviews with Asylum Seekers and Police Interviews in Finland

By Maatta, Simo K. | Translation & Interpreting, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Interpreting the Discourse of Reporting: The Case of Screening Interviews with Asylum Seekers and Police Interviews in Finland


Maatta, Simo K., Translation & Interpreting


1. Introduction

The study of language ideologies, i.e. cultural conceptions of the nature, purpose, and function of language (Gal & Woolard, 1995, p. 130; Woolard & Schieffelin, 1994) has been an important field of inquiry in sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and critical discourse studies for over thirty decades. To some extent, language ideologies have also been studied in the context of public service interpreting, i.e. community interpreting, and legal and courtroom interpreting in particular. Thus, many studies have argued that monolithic, monolingual language ideologies, in which generalizations about the nature and function of language are based on monolingual and institutionalized contexts, in fact dominate legal services. These ideologies have also been identified as a major source of linguistic injustice in interpretermediated encounters (see e.g. Angermeyer, 2008, 2014; Berk-Seligson, 2008; Haviland, 2003; Maryns, 2006). However, in interpreting studies, larger social phenomena and institutional constraints that link the interpreter's performance to language ideologies have not attracted much attention.

This paper contends that many problems and phenomena related to public service interpreting that are thought to emanate from cultural differences or the interpreter's general lack of competence (see e.g. Hale, 2004, p. 238; Pollabauer, 2006; Rudvin, 2006) or lack of accuracy due to the interpreter's omission of words and discourse markers or other pragmatic information (BerkSeligson, 1999; Hale, 2004, p. 239) can be interpreted as resulting from language ideologies. Furthermore, the paper argues that monolingual and monolithic language ideologies need to be explained in connection with the practices in which they appear and become reified. While ideologies can be defined as sets of beliefs or ideas having an object, typically a contested concept such as language, the practices reifying them can be conceived as discourses, i.e. systematic ways of using language in a particular way, directing the formation of meanings, creating a prototypical set of oral, written, and multimodal genres and texts, and enacting, reifying, and enforcing ideologies within a field of activity or an institution (Maatta, 2014; Maatta & Pietikainen, 2014). One of the most important practices within the public service is transcribing and reporting in the written form, based on the particularities of written language and specific written genres. This discourse of reporting characterizes all encounters between public service providers and service users in much of the world today and therefore also in public service interpreting.

Both discourse and ideology are essentially contested, polysemic concepts. While the way in which these notions are used in this paper may seem unorthodox from the viewpoint of translation and interpreting studies, certain links to descriptive translation studies (e.g. Toury, 2012) can be identified. Thus, grosso modo, ideologies correspond to value systems lying beyond observable norms that govern translational and interpreting activities. However, norms do not pertain to the same perspective or level of analysis with discourse and ideology. Norm can be used as a tool to describe and analyse the ways in which and the reasons why people perform tasks such as translating or interpreting in a particular way. Discourse and ideology, on the other hand, are useful tools when the analysis focuses on the effects and consequences of language use, on the one hand, and on the ways in which meanings are created and concepts and objects defined and reified, on the other hand. Therefore, critical discourse studies and sociolinguistics, which form the conceptual and theoretical framework of this paper, differ from descriptive translation studies both in terms of the questions asked and the theoretical and methodological tools used.

This paper suggests that the specific features of the discourse of reporting and its relation to monolithic, monolingual language ideologies may provide new insights into the analysis of complex networks of power relations that determine whether human rights can actually be exercised through public service interpreting. …

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