Guilty as charged? The effect of interpreting on interviews with suspects

  • Sonia C. Russell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The ways in which an interpreter affects the processes and, possibly, the outcomes of legal proceedings has formed the focus of much recent research, most of it centred upon courtroom discourse. However comparatively little research has been carried out into the effect of interpreting on the interview with a suspect, despite its 'upstream' position in the legal process and vital importance as evidence. As a speech event in the judicial system, the interview differs radically from that which takes place 'downstream', that is, in court. The interview with suspect represents an entirely different construct, in which a range of registers is apparent, and participants use distinctive means to achieve their institutional goals. When a transcript of an interpreter-mediated interview is read out in court, it is assumed that this is a representation of an event, which is essentially identical to a monolingual interview. This thesis challenges that assumption. Using conservation analytic techniques, it examines data from a corpus of monolingual and interpreter-mediated, taped interviews with suspects, in order to identify potentially significant interactional differences and describe ways in which the interpreter affects the processes and may affect the outcomes of the interview. It is argued that although individually, the interactional differences may appear slight, their cumulative effect is significant, particularly since the primary participants in the event are unaware of the full force of the interpreting effect. Finally, the thesis suggests that the insights provided by linguistic analysis of the interpreting on interviews may provide the basis for training, both for interpreters themselves, and for officers in techniques for interpreter-mediated interviews.
Date of Award2001
Original languageEnglish


  • effect of interpreting
  • interviews with suspects

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