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Linguistic studies of interpreters’ renditions and their possible contribution to the quality control of community interpreting in Japan

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 2:11 pm In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching | Comments Disabled

Makiko Mizuno, Professor

Kinjo Gakuin University

Nagoya, Japan

Community interpreting/translation is a relatively new concept in Japan, which was not widely known until around two decades ago. Japanese society had long been characterized by linguistic and cultural uniformity until the time of the bubble economy, an economic boom that occurred in the period between the latter half of the 1980s and early 1990s.  The boom attracted a large number of immigrant workers from all over the world, mainly from Asia and South America, and many of them did not speak Japanese. This resulted in communication problems in various aspects of social life. To cope with this new phenomenon, providing interpreting and translation services to such foreigners became an urgent need.  For Japan, however, foreigners, especially those who do not speak Japanese, have long been regarded as temporary visitors who are not expected to become permanent residents.  The government is not yet fully prepared to cope with the situation of long-term residency and immigration.  Therefore, there is no well-developed public certification system nor systematic training programs for community interpreters and language services such as interpreting and translation for non-Japanese speakers have been made available often on an ad hoc basis. In the past two decades many types of problems arising from communication breakdown have been reported including miscarriage of justice due to poor court interpreting.

Against this background, there has been increasing awareness among service providers that community interpreters should be professionals and it is impractical to continue relying on the good will and volunteering spirit of individuals.  At the same time, quality control of community interpreting/ translation has become a serious issue, especially in the legal and healthcare fields where people’s lives are at stake.  Accuracy of interpreting and translation is regarded as the most important aspect of quality control and there have been various kinds of research conducted in order to find out what consequences inaccurate interpreting/translation brings about, how such poor interpreting/translation occurs and how it can be avoided, etc.

As a recent tendency, a handful of researchers of community interpreting studies have moved towards the direction of scientific, data-driven research. For example, studies of legal interpreting using mock trials or court experiments have found that the interpreters alter both semantic and pragmatic effects of the testimony, impacting mock judges’ impression (Japan introduced the system of lay judge trials in 2009 in which six ordinary people join three professional judges and decide on the case together), which could eventually result in the grave legal consequences.

In 2011, I and my colleague researchers conducted an experiment to investigate whether court interpreters’ lexical choices influence lay judges’ impressions of the defendant and their sentence. We prepared a scenario based on a real case of injury resulting in death. The scene depicts the questioning of a non Japanese-speaking defendant. We created two versions of a movie, each with different interpreting. In Version A, to describe the acts of the victim, words with more violent connotations are used, and for the acts of the defendant, unmarked and neutral expressions are used. In Version B, the scene is manipulated in the opposite way, with unmarked and neutral expressions for the acts of the victim and more violent expressions for the acts of the defendant. Further, we manipulated the scenario so that the defendant’s words of remorse are interpreted differently in the two versions. We incorporated this point in our experiment because in Japanese courts, the defendant’ remorse is an important factor in determining the sentence. We played the two movies to two different groups of people whom we regarded as mock lay judges and in the questionnaire, the mock lay judges evaluated the defendant from several perspectives, such as whether he was guilty or not guilty, whether he was feeling remorse or not, etc.

In this presentation I would like to introduce our findings of the above research, focusing on the following three points: (1) the statistical difference in how the mock lay judges evaluated the defendant’s degree of remorse between Versions A and B, (2) the difference in how they evaluated the defendant’s guilt, and (3) changes in the forms of unmarked expressions as recalled by the mock lay judges.  Our analysis showed that the lexical choices made by the interpreter have psycho-linguistic influence on lay judges and give impacts on their impressions and decision-making.

It is expected that findings from linguistic studies supported by scientific data including the above can be applied to various areas of community interpreting and will significantly contribute to improving the quality of interpreting, because they can demonstrate how interpreters could give negative (or positive) effects on the process of communication and help enhance the awareness among interpreters of problematic interpreting.    .

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