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LINGUIST List 17.1627

Tue May 30 2006

Diss: Modified: Socioling: Angermeyer: ''Speak English or what?' Co...'

Editor for this issue: Meredith Valant <meredithlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Philipp Angermeyer, 'Speak English or what?' Codeswitching and interpreter use in New York small claims court

Message 1: 'Speak English or what?' Codeswitching and interpreter use in New York small claims court
Date: 29-May-2006
From: Philipp Angermeyer <psa208nyu.edu>
Subject: 'Speak English or what?' Codeswitching and interpreter use in New York small claims court

Institution: New York University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006

Author: Philipp Sebastian Angermeyer

Dissertation Title: "Speak English or what?" Codeswitching and interpreter use in New York small claims court

Dissertation URL: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~psa208/DISSERTATION_abstract.html

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
                            Forensic Linguistics

Dissertation Director:
Renée Blake
Gregory R. Guy
Bambi B Schieffelin
John Victor Singler

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation studies the language use of (1) individuals with limited
English skills who participate in informal court proceedings in New York
City and (2) the interpreters who assist them. Drawing on sociolinguistic
and ethnographic fieldwork in three Small Claims Courts and focusing on
speakers of Haitian Creole, Polish, Russian, or Spanish, it identifies
patterns of alternation between speaking through the interpreter and
speaking in English, and describes resulting language contact phenomena,
such as codeswitching, code-mixing, and insertion. It further finds that
interpreters vary stylistically in representing the speech of others (e.g.
verbatim or in reported speech). Both patterns are shown to affect the
structure of the interaction and to relate to speakers' conflicting
identities in the intercultural setting.

This dissertation is methodologically innovative in exploring data that
differ from those typically studied: rather than examining in-group
communication within a single community, it locates language contact in
interethnic communication and compares speakers from different linguistic
dyads in the same setting, where the social dominance of English is
institutionally enforced. This methodology permits a cross-linguistic
comparison of codeswitching and an analysis that ties microsociolinguistic
phenomena of language use and interaction to the macrosociolinguistic
conditions of the linguistic market. While community-specific codeswitching
patterns exist, speakers of all four languages codeswitch to English in
ways that suggest attempts to overcome the disadvantages of
interpreter-mediated communication while also suggesting accommodation to
English-speaking participants. For example, insertions of English lexical
items in other language structures are often lexical repetitions of items
used previously by English speakers, establishing coherence across turns
made in different languages.

The findings of this study contribute to theories of language choice and
bilingual identity, addressing the social significance of speaking English
or not speaking it and examining the role of interpreters as cultural
intermediaries. Further, they suggest that sociolinguistic investigations
of variation and change in linguistically diverse communities should pay
greater attention to data from out-group settings. The findings also relate
to critical issues in language and law, forensic linguistics, and
translation studies, identifying several ways in which individuals who
communicate through an interpreter are disadvantaged relative to English

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