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A recent case of mine involved a client locked up for assault. Said client carries a diagnosis of mental retardation, severe epilepsy, and psychotic tendencies. A recent outburst of the aforementioned psychotic tendencies is what landed his butt in jail.

These cases are always a challenge for an interpreter. The trick of the matter is to be confident enough in your skills to know that you aren't missing nuances because of a lack of linguistic ability. I was rather impressed at the client's comprehension of his condition and location. When I asked him if he knew where he was and what a jail was, he responded that "jail is where they put you when they are not happy with you." A simple explanation, but pretty darned accurate. In asking if he understood what a judge does, I learned that a judge "listens to your story and lets you go if he likes the story, but keeps you in jail if he doesn't like your story".

As an interpreter, these answers were a bit revelatory. We get so caught up in trying to explain all of the details that go along with whatever we're trying to explain in a legal setting, that we often forget that simplicity is really the best answer. It forces me to re-examine the interpretations I have been rendering. The tendency is to expand upon the concepts being presented either for purposes of clarity or in some vain attempt to level the balance of power in a legal setting. Understanding that this might just be another form of oppression in that providing too MUCH information to a client, helps me to be a better practitioner.

Everyday is a practice and sometimes that reminder comes from surprising places.

Please refer to the complimentary PDF for the full text: Language and Domain by Andrea K. Smith

Introduction
The courtroom vernacular of English (legalese) differs from secular English in many of the same ways that foreign languages differ. Legalese has important variations in lexicon, syntax, and discourse. These variations require the American Sign Language interpreters in the courtroom to understand the unique nature of legalese. Understanding the context in which the language lives and the requirement for precision that ultimately directs the development of the language guide the interpreter to an accurate, fully-developed interpretation.

About the Author

Andrea K. Smith has been providing professional freelance interpreting services since 2000. She has published several articles on interpreting and language in various journals. This article first appeared in the 2004 fall quarterly edition of Language Trade. Andrea currently resides in Washington D.C with her husband and cat.

Copyright Notice:

These articles are copyrighted by Andrea K. Smith. You may print one copy for personal use. Please contact Andrea for re-print permission if you would like to publish or re-distribute this article online or in print. Thank you.