Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, Sabanci University
This monograph investigates cognitive and linguistic challenges faced by court interpreters based on authentic Spanish-English data from the records of a US courtroom. Marianne Mason analyzes the quality of interpreting from a discourse perspective, focusing on both semantic (word) and pragmatic equivalence (e.g. the correct rendition of discourse markers, discourse organization, and terms of address). The author notes that the quality of interpreting can influence jurors’ and attorneys’ impressions of a witness or defendant, as well as affect the witness’s perception of the connotations conveyed by the attorney through stylistic or syntactic choices. An underperforming interpreter potentially puts the defendant at a disadvantage. M considers why interpreters may struggle to convey the defendant’s message adequately and identifies consequences that cognitive overload might have upon an interpreter’s performance.
Comprising six chapters and appendices, the main content of the book is found within the first 100 pages. The first two chapters (1–18) provide an overview of US court interpreting from a human rights perspective and describe the fieldwork procedures M employed. Ch. 3, ‘A linguistic and cognitive view of interpreter-induced errors’ (19–40), considers the effects of turn length on the interpreter’s performance and discusses variables that affect style, such as speech disfluencies, discourse markers ‘well’ and ‘now’, politeness markers, syntax, semantic equivalence at word level, and implicatures. In each case, the author provides bilingual examples from her data to illustrate each point and discusses the implications of additions and omissions. The error rate for each variable relative to the length of an utterance is calculated using regression analysis, and the results indicate that utterance length affects error rates for additions and omissions differently.
In Ch. 4, ‘Counteracting the effects of cognitive overload’ (41–59), M examines two strategies employed by interpreters to reduce cognitive overload: interrupting and semi-consecutive interpreting. Although M evaluates semi-consecutive interpreting positively, especially during more challenging parts of a trial (e.g. cross-examination), she notes that interpreters have little control over this technique as it requires attorneys to self-segment their turns.
In Ch. 5, ‘On using note taking techniques in the bilingual courtroom’ (61–74), M examines the use of note-taking to assist in managing cognitive overload. She laments insufficient provision for training in note-taking and points out the need for more research on this technique. Finally, in Ch. 6, ‘Gender differences in the management of cognitive overload’ (75–93), the author considers gender in the management of cognitive overload. Similar to previous research into gender and language, M’s findings suggest that the correct rendering of politeness markers and signals of deference in the target language depends on the interpreter’s gender, at least in turns above a certain length.
This book will greatly interest scholars and interpreters, and will doubtlessly encourage further investigation into professional interpreting. The book does not assume knowledge of Spanish; and the data, discussions, and findings are equally relevant to interpreting between other languages.