The atypical bilingual courtroom
: an exploratory study of the interactional dynamics in interpreter-mediated trials in Hong Kong

  • Eva Ng

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This study investigates the communication process in the atypical bilingual Hong Kong courtroom, where, unlike in most other jurisdictions, interpreting services are routinely provided for the linguistic majority instead of the linguistic minority and the interpreter usually has to work with court actors who share his/her bilingual knowledge. It sets out to explore how the unique nature of the bilingual Hong Kong courtroom impacts on interactional dynamics in communicative process in the courtroom and potentially on the administration of justice, using authentic recordings of nine criminal trials from three court levels, supplemented by a survey administered to court interpreters. It compares the participant roles of different court actors in different court settings, monolingual and bilingual, using Goffman’s (1981) participation framework and Bell’s (1984) audience design as the conceptual framework. It is found that the notion of recipientship in the atypical bilingual Hong Kong courtroom is complicated by the presence of other bilinguals, which inevitably changes the interactional dynamics and impacts on the power of court interpreter as these bilinguals take on more participant roles in the process. The findings of this study show that the power of court actors is realised in the participant role(s) they and the other co-present court actors take on or are capable of playing. The findings also indicate that a change in the participant role of a court actor has an impact on the participation status other actors, which may in turn hamper the administration of justice. It is also found that the notion of power asymmetry in the courtroom has an effect on the footings adopted by the interpreter and thus on his/her neutrality. This thesis identifies training needs and makes recommendations for best practice in the courtroom and for institutional administrative practice.
    Date of Award22 Nov 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKrzysztof Kredens (Supervisor)


    • participant role
    • participation status
    • bilinguals
    • power asymmetry
    • interpreting style

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