"It makes sense”: Credibility and impartiality in an interpreter-mediated asylum case in court

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Courts are institutions of power, regimented through state-mandated ideologies, including linguistic ideologies concerning nation, state, and justice (Angermeyer 2015; Blommaert 2009; Good 2007). Courts are also spaces where individuals sometimes need to interact across languages. In such cases, the multilingual world may challenge the fulfilment of justice, and micro and macro perspectives on language and linguistic communication are confronted in the high-stakes environment of the courtroom. These insights have been central to the work of Jan Blommaert as they are central to this chapter. We discuss some of the ethical aspects of the interpreter’s job, inspired principally by Inghilleri (e.g. 2013), and drawing on the notion of impartiality, central to interpreting scholarship and interpreting practice. The contribution treats an interpreter-mediated court meeting in Denmark, which transforms into an asylum case. We show how the interpreter monitor two asylum seekers’ narrative. The complexity of their story, the degree of details requested, and the couple’s general unstable psychological condition makes the construction of a coherent, credible, and verifiable narrative difficult. We discuss how impartial interpreting may be an ideology and an ideal, but that impartiality is not easy to operationalize in practice, and we discuss how the impartial interpreter may not be an easy way to uphold justice. The interpreter we focus on is not impartial. For instance, she offers advice to the asylum seekers. At the same time, the authorities also rely on her evaluation of the situation and the asylum seekers’ narrative as well as on mediation practices that go beyond institutional understandings of “appropriate” court interpreting practices, and a rigid, decontextualized understanding of impartiality.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherMultilingual Matters
Number of pages22
Publication statusSubmitted - 2024

ID: 395147952