Technologies and role-space: how videoconference interpreting affects the court interpreter’s perception of her role

Devaux, Jerome (2018). Technologies and role-space: how videoconference interpreting affects the court interpreter’s perception of her role. In: Fantinuoli, Claudio ed. Interpreting and Technology. Language Science Press, pp. 91–117.



Back in 2000, videoconference (VC) systems were introduced in criminal courts in England and Wales so that defendants could attend their pre-trial court hearings from prison. Since then, the number of cases heard via VC technologies has been on the increase, and, in its 2015-2016 annual report, Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service (2016) indicates that approximatively 25% of court hearings were conducted through this technological means.

In order to be able to conduct a hearing remotely, courts and prisons are equipped with cameras, screens, microphones, and loud-speakers which link up both locations so that participants can hear and see each other. In terms of research, various reports on the viability of such systems acknowledge the benefits of conducting court hearings remotely, whilst also highlighting shortfalls (such as Johnson & Wiggins, 2006; Plotnikoff & Woolfson, 1999, 2000). Interestingly, most of these studies were carried out in a monolingual setting, and fewer studies examine the impact of VC equipment in multilingual court settings (Braun, 2011, 2013, 2016; Fowler, 2012, 2013). In this context the interpreter’s role, and more particularly her role perception when technologies are used in a courtroom, remains under-explored.

Notwithstanding the above, the court interpreter’s role has been subject to many studies in face-to-face settings. Scholars such as Hale (2008) and Nartowska (2016) demonstrate that the court interpreter plays a more active role than that of a conduit or a machine translation, and many labels have been created to designate the interpreter’s role(s). Moving away from role-labels, Llewellyn-Jones and Lee (2014) investigate how the interpreter’s role can be conceptualised as 3-D models by analysing it along three axes: presentation of self, participant alignment, and interaction management.

This paper aims to report on a doctoral study that explores practising court interpreters’ perceptions of their role in England and Wales. To do so, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eighteen participants, and the data gathered was analysed through the prism of role-space. It will be argued that, in line with Llewellyn-Jones and Lee (2014)’s models, some interpreters perceive their role as a 3-D fixed entity, whilst other create a 3-D continuum. However, building on Llewellyn-Jones and Lee (2014), this paper will also demonstrate that, unlike in face-to-face court hearings, technologies force some interpreters to create split role models.

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