LINGUIST List 23.1773

Thu Apr 05 2012

Review: Applied Ling.; Forensic Ling.; Translation: Driesen & Petersen (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 05-Apr-2012
From: Leonhard Voltmer <>
Subject: Gerichtsdolmetschen
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AUTHORS: Driesen, Christiane; Petersen, Haimo-AndreasTITLE: GerichtsdolmetschenSUBTITLE: Grundwissen und -fertigkeitenSERIES: narr studienb├╝cherPUBLISHER: Narr Francke AttemptoYEAR: 2011

Leonhard A.G. Voltmer, Free University of Bolzano

SUMMARYThis book, an introductory textbook on court interpreting and translating, isdivided in two parts, one covering interpretation and the other covering legalissues.

The first part consists of seven learning units, some of which containrecommendations on how to behave as a court interpreter, while others describedifferent techniques, such as sight translation, consecutive interpreting andwhispered interpreting. The first part of the book is full of exercises, mainlytexts 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 fordifferent situations during the trial. The book does not consider administrativelaw, 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 ratherthan a principle. The exercise questions in this part require thorough legalknowledge (e.g. "Substantiate your decision not to issue a warrant in thedescribed case!"), and the correct answers are not provided.

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

EVALUATIONReading this book is like reading someone's lecture notes to an introductorycourse in legal interpretation and translation. During such a lecture it caneasily be unclear to a student what really matters, and in this book, theborders between accepted knowledge and teacher's opinion are blurred. And, asalready noted, the book has a confusing structure. In the first ten pages, thereare twelve (!) sections, dealing with the most divergent topics, including (a)the basic right to equality as foundation for court interpretation, (b) theimpossibility of changing the positioning of the accused at the defendant tableor the witness stand, the counsel for the defense or the witness, (c) astatement 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. Neverthelessthe 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 questionsinclude things like this: "Was the interpretation convincing? How did you feelduring the exercise?" The exercises cannot be practiced alone, withoutclassmates and instructor, because there are questions like: "How was theeye-contact?" Therefore, the extensive exercise parts do not make this bookrecommendable as an exercise book, especially not for home practice (as proposedin 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 personalopinions. For example, a strong claim like "many women have the bad habit ofshoulder breathing" (p. 16) really has to be backed with some evidence. Also,the authors hold that "at court and in the administration, speech is oftenemotional and unstructured, but even spirited speakers have to pause andinterpreters should use this short time". Here the contrary may be closer totruth: "at court and in the administration, speech is often unemotional andstructured, and even spiritless speakers continue incessantly. Thereforeinterpreters should insist on regular interruptions to perform well." Ingeneral, 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, isvery different from the rest of the book: it contains no exercises, but presentsGerman 'positive law'. There is not much to criticize, and the content does notgo far beyond what can be found in the article on "Strafverfahrensrecht" inWikipedia.

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

The book under review is intended as preparation for the 'final examination' inthe German educational system, but the content might satisfy only absolutebeginners in the field of forensic interpretation. The book is intended forindividual study or home training, but it can only be reasonably used in theclassroom with an experienced and well prepared teacher. I cannot recommend thetextbook for adoption by teachers of interpretation because developing one's ownteaching material is quicker than adapting the exercises and finding thesolutions, and the result will be better.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERLeonhard 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, andRomance Languages in Salzburg and Munich. Ph.D. in Linguistics (Munich).From 2001 to 2009 he worked for the European Academy of Bolzano (Italy) interminology, translation and language normation.

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