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Translation of Witness Statements Poon Wai Yee Emily The Open University of Hong Kong

1. Characteristics of Witness Statement  translation + interpretation  mode of interpretation: consecutive interpretation (接續傳譯) + sight translation (視譯) + whispering (耳語傳譯)  language: colloquial Cantonese  court evidence: accuracy and fidelity all contribute to high quality translation

2. Function of Witness Statement The Function of a witness statement is a combination of expressive, informative and vocative.

Expressive function: author-centred, the personal use the writer makes of his language. Informative function: the extralinguistic information content of the text. Vocative function: reader-centred (strong emotions and persuasive force)

(Newmark 1982: 12)

3. Court Discourse Courtroom discourse shows a juxtaposition of power and powerlessness. Powerful participants will try to control a less powerful witness’s testimony to influence the outcome of a case. The two parties in the courtroom have conflicting interests. Result: A translator is working for all parties, and is caught between conflicting interests and pressures. Therefore, his/her translation must be accurate and neutral.

4. Original Text 當時大哥明企喺我後面嘅右面,用手㩒住我 嘅膊頭,對我講:「唔X順呀,你出嚟行蠱惑都 不識抬舉!敬酒唔飲飲罰酒。」我就答佢嘞, 「有頭髮想做癩痢咩。」跟住佢就同我行樓梯去 到三樓嘅酒吧,喺裏面佢就話:「細佬,你真係 唔識撈,捱吓義氣啦,呢單嘢係唔係你做㗎?」 我當時正所謂「人在江湖,身不由己」祇有認咗 呢單嘢啦。我諗住去台灣避吓風頭先。跟住佢帶 返我出酒吧,一行出去,我就見到四至五個大 漢,佢哋一擁而上,將我雙臂扭向背後,行返落 樓下。

去到酒樓,我見大哥明攞起酒杯向亞強敬 酒,而攞酒杯嘅手勢係用黑社會四二六嘅手勢。 佢跟住同亞強講:「你嘅四二六祇不過係後起, 點同我比,假假哋我都係「叔父」吖。」亞強就 話:「俾面你就係「叔父」,唔俾面你就當你係 茂炳。」我越諗越唔妥,就行到佢地身邊,諗住 勸佢地啦,點知大哥明從身上攞出一把三角銼向 亞強腰間插咗一刀。見到攪成咁,我成個呆咗。

5. Meaning and Style / Form Style / form contains critical elements of the message:  voice level / tone  hesitation  false starts

Meaning and style / form are important notions related to substance, and will be taken into consideration by the court to determine credibility.



唔X順呀 a. * Aren’t you fxxking convinced? b. * You aren’t happy about it, are you. Improved version: You seem damned unhappy about it, don’t you? The word “damned” is not foul language. It is a strong word to imply an emphasis.

c. Don’t fucking like it? Do you? It’s spoken text. The use of the very strong expletive gets the idea across of “strong dislike” or “great dissatisfaction”. d. Do you feel fucking deflated? e. Frigging resentful, huh? Frigging is a strong word and euphemism for fucking.

6. Ambiguity 6.1 Disambiguate a sentence In order to approximate the original text as closely as possible with his translation, Rayar (1988: 542) held the view that a translator is first of all faced with having to disambiguate a sentence in question by specifying the meaning of the underspecified verb in that sentence. Question: Is it easy to disambiguate a sentence?

6.2 Invariable and variable meanings 你出嚟行蠱惑都不識抬舉。 “不識抬舉” is defined as “不接受或不自知別人 的禮遇優待”. A closer look at the definition reveals that the expression “不識抬舉” has a core meaning “not to behave in an accurate manner”, where one part of this core meaning “not to behave accurately” is invariable and the other part “in a certain accurate manner” is variable.

6.3 Contextual meaning To ascertain what “a certain manner” is, a translator has to look at the context. The context can be:  the other sentences in the text  the world knowledge (including the legal knowledge) the translator possesses

Question: Based on what criteria that prompts a translator to activate certain types of knowledge and leave other types of knowledge unactivated? -

you practise trickery do not behave in a certain accurate manner

admit the offence please the triad society repay a kindness be clever to avoid punishment

6.4 Examples and Solution Translate the invariable meaning only if you cannot specify the variable meaning

你出嚟行蠱惑都不識抬舉。 a.

You should have learned the ropes once you are in the dubious business. Learn the ropes: learn the procedures or rules for doing sth.

b. As one who practises trickery, you should have been wiser than this. c.

You work in the underworld and should know the rules of the game. Underworld means criminal gangs/organized crimes. One doesn’t need to be one of those to practice trickery — would you call white collar criminals underworld figures? It is marginally acceptable.

d. * You’ve been around in dishonest dealings for long but haven’t learned appreciate my kindness. Comment: It is inappropriate to specify the variable meaning.

細佬,你真係唔識撈。 a. Chappy, you really don’t know which direction the wind is blowing. See which way the wind is blowing: see what is likely to happen.

b. Little brother, you don’t know the rules of the game. c. You really do not know how to make do. d. * Little brother, you shouldn’t bite the hands that feed you. Bite the hand that feed one: be unfriendly to or harm somebody who has been kind to one. Comment: Variable meaning is added here.

7. Translation Methodology 7.1 Cultural gaps

Definition: gaps which are due to differences in extralinguistic reality or lexical mapping (Ivir 1998: 37-38) “In language, and especially in translation, there are disjunctions at the figurative level between symbols and the symbolized, between the figurative and its object, and between what it is meant to convey and what is actually conveyed.” (Chen 2003: 41)


Linguistic Transfer: Source Language Oriented

7.2.1 Literal translation (直譯) It is considered to be the best way to secure an equivalent effect in the translated version. Equivalent effect: Legal effect / legal intent. 7.2.2 Semantic translation (語義翻譯) (literal translation)

“Semantic translation attempts to render as closely as the semantic and syntactic structures of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original. Semantic translation remains within the original culture…” (Newmark 1982: 39)

“… in communicative as in semantic translation, provided that equivalent effect is secured, the literal word-for-word translation is not only the best, it is the only valid method of translation.” (Newmark 1982: 39)

7.2.3 Examples 敬酒唔飲飲罰酒。

a. You refuse a toast only to drink a penalty. What the student means here is that the toast is a drink offered in recognition of something (usually good), and a penalty drink is one where you are forced to drink something (perhaps because you made a mistake). It does have elements of “encouragement” and “force”, which is what the original text intends.

b. You refuse to drink a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit. Forfeit means penalty.

有頭髮想做癩痢咩。 a. No one with hair wants to have favus on the scalp. b. Who would like to have a scabby head if there is hair on his head.

7.2.4 Comments:  “Culture is a product of tradition which has also been open to foreign influence … Whether a culture can grow depends on its ability to gain a fresh appreciation of other cultures and traditions by means of translation.” (Sun 2003: 27-28)  “… excessive borrowing obscures one’s own cultural identity.” (Sun 2003: 26)

 Strategy of Foreignization This is a way of “taking the reader over to the foreign culture, making him or her see the cultural and linguistic differences” (Schäffner 1995:4) and is the strategy called “foreignization” by Venuti (Venuti 1995:1)

This non-fluent translation style will disrupt the cultural codes of the target language and make visible the presence of the translator (Venuti 1995:20).


Cultural Transfer:

The orientation is towards cultural rather than linguistic transfer.  Translation is not viewed as a process of transcoding, but as an act of communication.  Translation is oriented towards the function of the target text rather than prescriptions of the source text.


Functional Approaches: Target Language/ Reader Oriented.

7.4.1 Communicative translation ( 傳 意 翻 譯 ) (literal translation) “Communicative translation attempts to produce on its readers an effect as close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original. Communicative translation addresses itself solely to the second reader, who … would expect a generous transfer of foreign elements into his own culture as well as his language where necessary.” (Newmark 1982: 39)

7.4.2 Dynamic equivalence (功能對等) “Dynamic equivalence is … to be defined in terms of the degree to which the receptors of the message in the receptor language respond to it in substantially the same manner as the receptors in the source language.” (Nida and Taber 1982: 24)

7.4.3 Skopos theory (purpose of a translation) (目的論) “The aim of any translation action, and the mode in which it is to be realized, are negotiated with the client who commissions the action … the target text, the translatum (a term meaning the outcome of translational action), is oriented towards the target culture, and it is this which ultimately defines its adequacy.” (Vermeer 1989: 173) In Vermeer’s view, the translator has the power to decide what content should be offered according to the purpose of the target text specified by the needs of the target readers.

7.4.4 Examples

敬酒唔飲飲罰酒 a. You don’t take the carrot but take the stick.  The carrot idea comes from the old fashioned concept of using a carrot (attracted food) to entice a horse to move — this carrot food being better than a stick, i.e. violent force.  The carrot means incentive/encouragement while the stick means force/coercion.

b. You are asking for trouble.

c. You don’t take the easy way but the hard way./You choose the hard way, not the smooth way. d. You respond to the negative, not the positive.

有頭髮想做癩痢咩。 a.

Nobody wants to be in a tight spot.

In a tight spot: (infml) in a difficult position or situation. b. Did I have any alternative?

7.4.5 Comments  The functional approach may lead to a severe loss of the original meaning and therefore an absence of fidelity.  Strategy of domestication To translate in a readable way in the target language conforms to one of the translation strategies within the invisibility theory proposed by Venuti (1995: 1). The above translation approach is a domesticating way of “bringing the foreign culture to the reader in the target culture, making the text recognizable and familiar” (Schäffber 1995: 4)


Doubts “… serious doubts have been raised in many quarters by scholars of different backgrounds as to whether functional approaches can be legitimately applied … to legal texts, the main objections being centred on their typical recipient-orientedness, which seems inadmissible for legal language.” (Garzone 1999: 392)


Source Language Approach / Target Language Approach Which approach is better? This is rarely discussed and a court interpreter is free to adopt any approach s/he likes.



 An interpreter has to assess the communicative purpose of the original text to determine the approach s/he will adopt.  S/he can adopt the target language approach if the cultural element is background information and not the focus of the case.  The source language approach should be taken if the cultural element has legal implication. Faithfulness to the source language expression and its transparency in the target language are important to a judge’s decision.




Definitions “In the course of archieving something new, mediators (translators and interpreters) have to resort to novel ways of encoding an old message.” (Neubert 1997: 19) “Particularly with regard to technical translation, translation and creativity seemed to be two diametrically opposed concepts. … Therefore, the acknowledgment of a translator’s creative input is limited in order to minimize the semblance of subjectivity and to keep up the myth of objectivity in translations.” (Pommer 2008: 360)

“… even slight changes in language may affect the substance, translators must always take account of legal factors when making linguistic decisions.” (Wilss 1988: 11, quoted from Pommer 2008: 360)


Examples: overtranslation/wrong translation

去到酒樓,我見大哥攞起酒杯向亞強敬酒,而 攞酒杯嘅手勢係黑社會426嘅手勢。

*… he held the glass in a gesture which means ironside 426 in gangland. Comment: Ironside refers to a very old American TV series about crime. Ironside was a tough guy. Some triads may have copied this term.

Gangland is used in American culture to mean the world of gangs as in the triad underworld.

俾面你就係「叔父」,唔俾面你就當你係茂炳。 *You are senior if you received respect, otherwise, you are pig. Pig doesn’t mean stupid person in English. It means bad mannered, sloppy, or gluttonous.


Examples: unconventionality

你嘅426衹不過係後起,點同我比。 a. Your Four Two Six is just wet behind the ears, doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

(Still) wet behind the ears: (infml) (derog) immature or inexperienced; naive. In the same breath: immediately after saying sth that suggests the opposite intention or meaning.

b. You are just a new breed of 426 rank, nothing at all if compared to me. c. You are just an up-and-coming 426 and nowhere near in comparison with me. Up-and-coming: (infml) (of a person) making good progress; likely to succeed (esp. in a career). d. Your 426 is but a junior one, hardly my match.

e. Your 426 is only a green-horn not comparable to me. Greenhorn is American slang for someone who is new and inexperienced.


Example: novelty

我當時正所謂「人在江湖,身不由己」衹有 認咗呢單嘢啦。我唸住去台灣避吓風頭先。 a. Since we are here on earth we may as well live and get on with it. I hardly had any choice except to admit this particular one. I planned to go to lie low in Taiwan. b. Since one exists in this world, one has no alternative … Comment: Both a and b are literal translations with no creativity.

c. At the time, it was like “Hobson’s choice in the jungle out there”. I couldn’t but confess to it. I was thinking about heading for the hills in Taiwan. “Hobson’s choice is a free choice in which only ONE OPTION IS OFFERED” which basically means the same as “hardly any choice except to admit this particular one”, and the use of the jungle and the hills I think is quite creative and appropriate. Hobson’s choice means a choice of one thing – from a list of one.

Bibliography Chen, Yongguo. 2003. “The uncertainty of Translation”. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 11(1), 37-44. Gile, Daniel. 1991. “A communication–oriented analysis of quality in nonliterary translation and interpretation”. In Larson Mildred L. (ed.). Translation: Theory and Practice Tension and Interdependence (American Translators Association Scholarly Monograph Series Vol. V), 188-200. Binghamton: State University of New York. Hjort-Pedersen, Mette and Dorrit Faber. 2001. “Lexical ambiguity and legal translation: A discussion”. Multilingua 20(4), 379-392. Ivir, Vladimir. 1998. “Procedures and strategies for the translation of culture”. In Gideon Toury (ed.). Translation Across Cultures, 37-48. New Delhi: Bahri Publications. Moeketsi, R.H. 1999. “Discourse structure in a criminal trial of a magistrate’s court”. South African Journal of African Languages 19(1), 30-39. Neubert, Albrecht. 1997. “Postulates for a theory of Translation”. In Joseph H. Danks et al. (eds.). Cognitive Processes in Translating and Interpreting, 1-24. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Newmark, Peter. 1982. Approaches to Translation. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Nida, Eugene A. and Charles R. Taber, 1982. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Leiden: E.J. Brill. Pommer, Sieglinde E. 2008. “No creativity in legal translation?” Babel 54(4), 355368. Rayar, W. 1988. “Problems with legal translation from the point of view of the translator”. Nekemen P. (ed.). XIth World Congress of FIT: Translation, our Future. Maastricht: Euroterm. Schäffner, Christina, 1995. “Editorial”, In Christina Schäffner and Helen KellyHolmes (eds.). Cultural Function of Translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. Sun, Yifeng, 2003. “Translating cultural differences”. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 11(1), 25-36. Venuti, Lawrence, 1995. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge. Wilss, Wolfram, 1988. Kognition und Übersetzen. Tübingen: Niemeyer.


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