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Review of  Gerichtsdolmetschen

Reviewer: Leonhard A. Voltmer
Book Title: Gerichtsdolmetschen
Book Author: Christiane Driesen Haimo-Andreas Petersen
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Forensic Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.1773

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AUTHORS: Driesen, Christiane; Petersen, Haimo-Andreas
TITLE: Gerichtsdolmetschen
SUBTITLE: Grundwissen und -fertigkeiten
SERIES: narr studienbücher
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto
YEAR: 2011

Leonhard A.G. Voltmer, Free University of Bolzano

This book, an introductory textbook on court interpreting and translating, is
divided in two parts, one covering interpretation and the other covering legal

The first part consists of seven learning units, some of which contain
recommendations on how to behave as a court interpreter, while others describe
different techniques, such as sight translation, consecutive interpreting and
whispered interpreting. The first part of the book is full of exercises, mainly
texts with exercises and criteria for evaluation of interpretation performance.

The second part of the book contains three parts:

-- a one-page chapter called “introduction”, really more a short foreword;
-- a chapter on German penal procedural law;
-- a very short chapter of 20 pages focusing on civil law.

The introduction explains which interpreting technique should be chosen for
different situations during the trial. The book does not consider administrative
law, public law in general, and other procedural codes.

The text has a structure going six levels deep, but in a way that is confusing.
For instance, under the heading of “principles”, number 12 is an exercise rather
than a principle. The exercise questions in this part require thorough legal
knowledge (e.g. “Substantiate your decision not to issue a warrant in the
described case!”), and the correct answers are not provided.

The main chapter on German penal procedural law contains information on general
legal and procedural principles, on the German procedural code, specific
institutions and forensic actors. Some provisions of the German penal procedural
code “StPO” are quoted in full length or paraphrased, some subjects (e.g.
“assignment of defense counsel”) are discussed at length. Both theory and
practice are represented and the two are often intermingled. Furthermore, 23
pages of the 75 pages are textual examples of written acts, such as arrest
warrants, writs and different court decisions. These examples of applied law are
interspersed with the description of legal procedure.

Reading this book is like reading someone’s lecture notes to an introductory
course in legal interpretation and translation. During such a lecture it can
easily be unclear to a student what really matters, and in this book, the
borders between accepted knowledge and teacher’s opinion are blurred. And, as
already noted, the book has a confusing structure. On the first ten pages, there
are twelve (!) sections, dealing with the most divergent topics, including (a)
the basic right to equality as foundation for court interpretation, (b) the
impossibility of changing the positioning of the accused at the defendant table
or the witness stand, the counsel for the defense or the witness, (c) a
statement that to use the book you need to be able to do scientific research,
and (d) curricular recommendations for lesser used languages.

The lecture note character shines through especially in the extensive exercises
-- roughly half of the book is composed of exercises and examples. Nevertheless
the use of the book as an exercise book is hampered by the absence of solutions.
The results of the exercises are not verifiable, given that typical questions
include things like this: “Was the interpretation convincing? How did you feel
during the exercise?” The exercises cannot be practiced alone, without
classmates and instructor, because there are questions like: “How was the
eye-contact?” Therefore, the extensive exercise parts do not make this book
recommendable as an exercise book, especially not for home practice (as proposed
by the blurb on the back cover of the book).

Another indication of a shortcoming is the frequent use of the word
“unfortunately”, which indicates that the authors are mixing in their personal
opinions. For example, a strong claim like “many women have the bad habit of
shoulder breathing” (p. 16) really has to be backed with some evidence. Also,
the authors hold that “at court and in the administration, speech is often
emotional and unstructured, but even spirited speakers have to pause and
interpreters should use this short time”. Here the contrary may be closer to
truth: “at court and in the administration, speech is often unemotional and
structured, and even spiritless speakers continue incessantly. Therefore
interpreters should insist on regular interruptions to perform well.” In
general, then, the book mixes the personal point of view with facts.

The second part of the book, an introduction to some aspects of penal law, is
very different from the rest of the book: it contains no exercises, but presents
German ‘positive law’. There is not much to criticize, and the content does not
go far beyond what can be found in the article on “Strafverfahrensrecht” in

The book also contains some stylistic shortcomings, for example confused
narrative modes: in some parts author and audience are represented with personal
pronouns, in other parts the point of view is impersonal or avoided by use of
the passive voice. Obviously, the authors did not agree on a common narrative
perspective and the editor did not take the necessary care to remedy this.

The book under review is intended as preparation for the ‘final examination’ in
the German educational system, but the content might satisfy only absolute
beginners in the field of forensic interpretation. The book is intended for
individual study or home training, but it can only be reasonably used in the
classroom with an experienced and well prepared teacher. I cannot recommend the
textbook for adoption by teachers of interpretation because developing one’s own
teaching material is quicker than adapting the exercises and finding the
solutions, and the result will be better.

Leonhard A. G. Voltmer is a lecturer in LSP at the Free University of Bolzano. He studied Law in Munich and Paris, Legal Theory in Brussels and Lund, and Romance Languages in Salzburg and Munich. Ph.D. in Linguistics (Munich). From 2001 to 2009 he worked for the European Academy of Bolzano (Italy) in terminology, translation and language normation.

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