April 16, 2009 “Interpretation on Trial: Linguistic Issues Inside the Jamaican Courtroom”


Ross S 562 – Thursday April 16 at 5:00 York University

“Interpretation on Trial: Linguistic Issues inside the Jamaican Courtroom”
Professor Clive Forrester
(DLLL York University/University of the West Indies at Mona)
There is no shortage of researchers who demonstrate that when “cultural minorities” enter the courtroom space communicative problems are likely to arise. The communicative problems can be divided into two broad categories – linguistic, and discourse related. Linguistic problems may include, but are not limited to, the types of problems which arise when a defendant or witness does not speak the language of the courtroom and an interpreter is required. Researchers such as Berk-Seligson (2002), Hale (2004), and Mason (2008) have all done studies in this area. Discourse related issues are of the types which occur when the defendant or witness is unfamiliar with the communicative norms inside the courtroom (such as, for example, the rigid question and answer format). Those issues have been thoroughly documented in work done by Eades (2000), Moeketski (1999), and Feiner (1997) to name a few. There are some courtroom scenarios however, where defendants and witnesses encounter both linguistic and discourse problems. The Jamaican courtroom is one such space.
This paper seeks to explore the types of communicative problems which are likely to arise inside the Jamaican courtroom when the lay witness takes the stand. The paper uses three important elements as a background to the discussion; (a) the linguistic and discourse reality of the average defendant inside the courtroom (b) an ignorance of this situation and (c) how the complex system of courtroom interaction magnifies the problem. Several examples of potential misinterpretation are highlighted from actual court transcripts and the extent to which these ultimately form a part of the final verdict is explored.

Small reception to follow in DLLL Lounge! All welcome!

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