Skip to main content

The Bilingual Courtroom

Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process, Second Edition

With a New Preface

The Bilingual Courtroom

Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process, Second Edition

With a New Preface
Susan Berk-Seligson’s groundbreaking book draws on more than one hundred hours of audio recordings of Spanish/English court proceedings in federal, state, and municipal courts—along with a number of psycholinguistic experiments involving mock juror reactions to interpreted testimony—to present a systematic study of court interpreters that raises some alarming, vitally important  concerns. Contrary to the assumption that interpreters do not affect the dynamics of court proceedings, Berk-Seligson shows that interpreters could potentially make the difference between a defendant being found guilty or not guilty of a crime.

This second edition of the The Bilingual Courtroom includes a fully updated review of both theoretical and policy-oriented research relevant to the use of interpreters in legal settings, particularly from the standpoint of linguistic pragmatics. It provides new insights into interpreting in quasi-judicial, informal, and specialized judicial settings, such as small claims court, jails, and prisons; updates trends in interpreter certification and credentialing, both in the United States and abroad; explores remote interpreting (for example, by telephone) and interpreter training programs; looks at political trials and tribunals to add to our awareness of international perspectives on court interpreting; and expands upon cross-cultural issues. Also featuring a new preface by Berk-Seligson, this second edition not only highlights the impact of the previous versions of The Bilingual Courtroom, but also draws attention to the continued need for critical study of interpreting in our ever diversifying society.

Read the introduction.

352 pages | 1 halftone, 4 line drawings, 14 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies, The Constitution and the Courts

Reference and Bibliography


“One of the most fascinating studies of the judicial process that I have read in a long, long time.”

Criminal Justice Review, on the previous edition

“Perhaps the first comprehensive empirical study of its kind. . . . The Bilingual Courtroom is a pioneering work which throws light on an aspect of court interpreting that has hardly been treated in any depth in previous publications.”

Translator, on the previous edition

“An essential text for the vigilant lawyer eager to ensure that his or her client understands the proceedings and their consequences. The book will give even the most hard-edged lawyer empathy for the work of the interpreter and awareness of the potential damage that an interpreter can wreak.”

Criminal Justice, on the previous edition

The Bilingual Courtroom ushers in the first stage of a full revolution. . . . If the case demonstrating widespread inadequacy of services for linguistic minorities had not already been locked up tight by the accumulated labors of the previous twenty years, this volume will surely persuade any remaining open-minded skeptics. As such, it will be a landmark book which should be required reading for every person involved in the administration of justice.”

Judicature, on the previous edition

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
Chapter 1: Introduction
The Bilingual Courtroom
Spanish in the Courtroom
Duties of the Court Interpreter
Overview of This Book
Chapter 2: Law and Language
Legalese or Legal English
Comprehensibility of Legal Language
Spoken Legal Language in the Courtroom
Spoken Legal Language and Social Control
Questions and Control
Other Linguistic Devices for Controlling Witness Testimony
The Impact of the Interpreter on Court Talk
Chapter 3: The Bilingual American Courtroom: A Legal Raison d’Être
State Provisions for Court-Appointed Interpreters
Case Law
Interpreter for the Witness versus Interpreter for the Party
Waiving One’s Right to an Interpreter
Federal Measures
The Court Interpreters Act
The Training and Certification of Federal Court Interpreters
Interpreter Training Programs
Chapter 4: Fieldwork Procedures
Challenges in the Fieldwork
Timing of Proceedings
Tape-Recording in the Courtroom
Transcribing the Tapes
Participant Observation in Court Interpreter Training Programs
Chapter 5: The Ethnography of the Bilingual Courtroom
How Attention Is Shifted to the Interpreter by Court Proceedings and by Other Parties
Consciousness of the Presence of the Court Interpreter
The Interpreter’s Own Attention-Drawing Behavior
Controlling the Flow of Testimony
Chapter 6: Interpreter-Induced Alternation in Pragmatic Blame Avoidance Mechanisms
Blame Avoidance/Attribution Techniques
Passive Voice for Blame Avoidance: A Cross-Cultural Universal
Verb Form and Blame Avoidance in Spanish: Ergativity, Agentless Passives, and Impersonal Constructions
Intransivity and Backgrounding in Legal Discourse
The Manipulation of Grammatical Case in the Bilingual Courtroom
Quantitative Evidence of Variation in the Interpretation of Verb Case
Chapter 7: The Intersection of Testimony Styles in Interpreted Judicial Proceedings: Pragmatics and the Lengthening of Testimony
Length of Answer and Attorney Control
Spanish Is Generally Longer than English in Translation
Lengthening of Testimony by the Court Interpreter
How Testimony Is Lengthened through Interpretation
Conclusion: The Intersection of Testimony Styles
Chapter 8: The Impact of the Interpreter on Mock Juror Evaluations of Witnesses
Politeness in the Bilingual Courtroom
Politeness versus Lack of Politeness: What Difference Does the Interpretation Make?
Research Design
The Sample
Politeness: Discussion
Hyperformality: A Shift Upward in Speech Register
Register: Discussion
Active versus Passive Voice
The Impact of Interpreter Intrusiveness: The Consequences of Interrupting and Prodding
Interrupting the Attorney
Interrupting the Witness
Prodding the Witness
Chapter 9: An Appellate View of Interpreting Issues
The Appellate Cases
Appeals Based on Interpreter Errors/Inaccuracies
Appeals Based on Unqualified Interpreters
Appeals Based on Mode of Interpreting
Jurors and the Interpreter
The Implications of Appellate Review for Interpretation in the Courts
Chapter 10: Recent Developments in the Field of Legal Interpreting
The Role of the Interpreter in Court: New Insights
A Heightened Awareness of Pragmatics and Its Role in Interpreted Courtroom Proceedings
Interpreting in Quasi-Judicial, Informal, and Specialized Judicial Settings
Interpreting in Police Settings
Interpreting in Immigration and Asylum Cases
Interpreting in the Informal Courtroom
Interpreting in Jails and Prisons
Interpreter Certification/Credentialing
Remote (Telephone) Interpreting
Interpreter Training Programs
International Perspectives on Court Interpreting
1: State Legislation Regarding Rights to Court Interpreting
2: Public Law 95–539, Court Interpreters Act
3: Suggested Interpreter’s Written Oath
4: Standards of Professional Conduct and Responsibilities for Members of the Judiciary Interpreters Association of Texas
5: Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters and Legal Translators
6: National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities
7: Text of Experimental Tape Recordings
Name Index
Subject Index

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press