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Among the most unanimously despised occupation is the legal profession. Sir Thomas More imagined an ideal world, a Utopia in which "they have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters.” Likewise, Shakespeare coined the phrase in his play, King Henry IV, “let's kill all the lawyers." One reason for this animosity is the reputation lawyers have earned for obfuscation, for using "dead and deadly words" and "swarming imprecision" (Mellinkoff, 1992: vii, viii). This is more evident in a multicultural setting in courts where a diversity of language is apparent. This is where the court interpreter comes in.

The function of the interpreter in proceedings has been examined extensively elsewhere (González et al., 1991; Berk-Seligson, 1990; Mikkelson, 1993; Mikkelson, 1998), and need not be explored further here. As these authors have shown, the adversarial, oral trial in which attorneys for opposing sides attempt to persuade a jury of laypersons to reach a verdict in their client's favor results in a "staged performance" in which the interpreter "becomes another member of the cast of players, and the attorneys attempt to manipulate the interpretation as part of their carefully orchestrated production" (Mikkelson, 1998).

The authors cited above have also illustrated how important interpreters are in guaranteeing the defendant's right to due process by ensuring his "presence" when his case is heard by providing a complete simultaneous interpretation of everything that is said in court.

Given that court interpreters have an obligation to provide an accurate and complete interpretation of messages from one language to another, words have no meaning without context, and the language of the law is full of excess verbiage, it is clear that a verbatim interpretation of courtroom proceedings is meaningless, if not impossible. In practice, interpreters have learned to disregard instructions from the bench such as "don't interpret, just translate," or to "just translate word for word what he's saying," and instead to convey the meaning of the source-language message as precisely as they can within the limits of the target language's grammar and syntax. González et al. (1991: 16-17) accept the idea of "dynamic equivalence" developed by Nida and Taber (1974), but note that in the courtroom environment, equivalence must be carried one step further, "in that the form and style of the message are regarded as equally important elements of meaning" (emphasis in original). They contend that the interpreter must mediate between these two extremes: the verbatim requirement of the legal record and the need to convey a meaningful message in the TL [target language]. These requirements — to account for every word of the SL [source language] message without compromising the syntactic and semantic structure of the TL — are seemingly mutually exclusive. However, the dichotomy is resolved by focusing on conceptual units that must be conserved, not word-by-word, but concept-by-concept. To be true to the global SL message, paralinguistic elements such as hesitations, false starts, hedges, and repetitions must be conserved in a verbatim style and inserted in the corresponding points of the TL message. (González et al., 1991: 17)

Background of the Study

History has recorded the early practice of interpreting. According to Harris (1997), interpreting has been "documented in stone since the time of the Pharaohs." With specific reference to judiciary interpreting, Colin and Morris (1996) cite interpreted trials in 1682 and 1820 that were landmarks in jurisprudence. A series of interpreted trials, the prosecution of the Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg in 1945-46, was a watershed for the interpreting profession because it was the first instance of the use of equipment to provide simultaneous interpretation. Conference interpreters cite these trials as a key stage in the development of their own profession (Seleskovitch, 1978). Since that time, interpreting in general and judiciary interpreting in particular have become increasingly professionalized activities. One of the hallmarks of a profession is the existence of academic programs designed to prepare candidates for entry into the field (Carter, 1990).

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the term "profession" as "an occupation or vocation requiring training in the liberal arts or the sciences and advanced study in a specialized field; the body of qualified persons of one specific occupation or field." The term has been used in a variety of contexts throughout history, beginning with the religious connotation of taking vows or expressing a belief. The sense of an occupation or calling came along later. In modern times, medicine, law, and the ministry have been considered the original "learned professions,” and are regarded as models for others to emulate. Sociologists, in particular, have studied the process whereby an occupation becomes a profession and thus enhances the social status of its practitioners. Similarly, a study of Tseng reviews the writings of a number of scholars who have examined the process whereby an occupation becomes a profession. He identifies two schools of thought, those who accept the "trait theory" of professionalization and those who uphold the "theory of control." This would be the conceptual framework that the study will be building on.

Statement of the Problem

Court interpreters are currently facing the possibility that they may become extinct, as occurred with court reporters in Hong Kong five years ago when the government decided to terminate the use of court reporters at all levels of courts in Hong Kong. Ever since the British colonial rulers first came to Hong Kong, court interpretation has been used in courts of law at all levels. Court interpreters have long played an important role in the administration of justice in Hong Kong. Due to the fact that the Chinese language is being used more often in this predominately Chinese community, court interpreters have become an easy target of the government’s budget cutting measures. The number of court interpreters has now been frozen, and resources for professional development have been minimized. Professionalization is an important means for a group of professionals to gain control over the development of their own profession. The aim of this study is to research the professionalization process for Hong Kong court interpreters. Specifically, the study intends to answer the following questions:

1.            How do court interpreters view their own professional status?

2.            What is the level of satisfaction of court interpreters in their jobs?

3.            How would accreditation affect the perception of court interpreters regarding their professional status?

4.            How would accreditation affect the level of satisfaction of court interpreters in their jobs?

5.            What would be an effective accreditation mechanism that could be used by court interpreters as a means to empower themselves?

Aims and Objectives

Research aim

Professionalization is an important means for a group of professionals to gain control over the development of their own profession. Previous studies have indicated that accreditation is an integral part of professionalization. This study will be the first local study to discuss professional accreditation for interpreters in Hong Kong.

Research objective

This study intends to investigate the professionalization process for Hong Kong court interpreters. Specifically, the study intends to accomplish the following objectives:

1.            Identify the manner on which court interpreters view their own professional status.

2.            Identify the level of satisfaction of court interpreters in their jobs.

3.            Identify how accreditation affects the perception of court interpreters regarding their professional status.

4.            Identify how accreditation affects the level of satisfaction of court interpreters in their jobs.

5.            Formulate an effective accreditation mechanism that could be used by court interpreters as a means to empower themselves.


Research methodology and techniques for data collection

The descriptive research method uses observation and surveys. In this method, it is possible that the study would be cheap and quick. It could also suggest unanticipated hypotheses. Nonetheless, it would be very hard to rule out alternative explanations and especially infer causations. Thus, this study will use the descriptive approach.  This descriptive type of research will utilize observations in the study.  To illustrate the descriptive type of research, Creswell (1994) will guide the researcher when he stated: Descriptive method of research is to gather information about the present existing condition.  The purpose of employing this method is to describe the nature of a situation, as it exists at the time of the study and to explore the cause/s of particular phenomena. The researcher opted to use this kind of research considering the desire of the researcher to obtain first hand data from the respondents so as to formulate rational and sound conclusions and recommendations for the study.

The research described in this document is based solely both qualitative and quantitative research methods. This permits a flexible and iterative approach. During data gathering the choice and design of methods are constantly modified, based on ongoing analysis. This allows investigation of important new issues and questions as they arise, and allows the investigators to drop unproductive areas of research from the original research plan.

The primary source of data will come from a questionnaire and interviews conducted by the researcher. Ideally, the respondents will grade each statement in the survey-questionnaire using a Likert scale, with a five-response scale wherein respondents will be given five response choices. The equivalent weights for the answers will be:


Range                                                            Interpretation

      4.50 – 5.00                                                    Strongly Agree

3.50 – 4.00                                                    Agree

2.50 – 3.49                                                    Uncertain

1.50 – 2.49                                                    Disagree         

0.00 – 1.49                                                    Strongly Disagree


The secondary sources of data will come from published articles from social science journals, theses and related studies on training and organizational development as well as those dealing with management and professionalization.

For this research design, the researcher will gather data, collate published studies from different local and foreign universities and articles from social science journals; and make a content analysis of the collected documentary and verbal material.  Afterwards, the researcher will summarize all the information, make a conclusion based on the null hypotheses posited and provide insightful recommendations on the dealing with the professionalization of court interpreters.


Proposed subject population and sample

The general population of this study is court interpreters in Hong Kong, numbering a hundred-fifty (150).


Data analysis techniques

The researcher will tally, score and tabulate all the responses in the provided interview questions. Moreover, the interview shall be using a structured interview. It shall consist of a list of specific questions and the interviewer does not deviate from the list or inject any extra remarks into the interview process. The interviewer may encourage the interviewee to clarify vague statements or to further elaborate on brief comments. Otherwise, the interviewer attempts to be objective and tries not to influence the interviewer's statements. The interviewer does not share his/her own beliefs and opinions. The structured interview is mostly a "question and answer" session.

When all the survey questionnaire will have been collected, the researcher will use statistics to analyse all the data.

The statistical formulae to be used in the survey questionnaire will be the following:

1.     Percentage – to determine the magnitude of the responses to the questionnaire.


% = -------- x 100        ;           n – number of responses

            N                                 N – total number of respondents



2.     Weighted Mean


            f1x1 + f2x2  + f3x3 + f4x4  + f5x5

x = ---------------------------------------------  ;



where:            f – weight given to each response

                        x – number of responses

            xt – total number of responses

The researcher will be assisted by the SPSS in coming up with the statistical analysis for this study.

Project time plan

The time line for this study is as follows:

Month 1 to Month 3: Focus groups will be used to understand how court interpreters perceive the issue of an accreditation mechanism.

Month 4 to Month 6: In-depth interviews with training officers, lawyers and judges will be conducted in order to understand the views of non-interpreters of interpreter accreditation.

Month 7 to Month 9: Similar accreditation systems will then be reviewed, and a new one tailored to the needs of Hong Kong will be proposed.

Month 10 to Month 12: Finally, when an accreditation mechanism is proposed, a questionnaire survey will be conducted among court interpreters on the staff of the Judiciary in order to understand their acceptance of such a system.

Month 12 to Month 14: Write-up period.


Berk-Seligson, S. (1990). The bilingual courtroom: Court interpreters in the judicial process. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.


Carter, M. (1990). Occupation to profession continuum - status and future of AAHPERD. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 61(3), 106-09.


Colin, J. and Morris, R. (1996). Interpreters and the legal process. Winchester, UK: Waterside Press.


Creswell, J.W. (1994) Research design: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.


Gonzalez, R., Vasquez, V. And Mikkelson, H. (1991) Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice, Durham, NC, Carolina Academic Press.


Harris, B. (1997). Foreword: A landmark in the evolution of interpreting, in Carr, S., Roberts, R. Dufour, A., and Steyn, D., eds. The Critical Link: Interpreters in the Community. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 1-3.


Mellinkoff, D. (1992): A Dictionary of English Legal Usage, xx, xx.


Mikkelson, H. (1993). Court interpreting in California. In Parallèles, Cahiers de l'École de Traduction et d'Interprétation de l'Université de Genève, No. 15 (pp. 93-102).


Mikkelson, H. (1998). Towards a redefinition of the role of the court interpreter. In Interpreting Vol. 3(1) (pp. 21-45).


Nida, E. and Taber, C. (1969) The Theory and Practice of Translation, Leiden: Brill.


Seleskovitch, D. (1978). Interpreting for International Conferences. Trans. S. Dailey and E. McMillan. Washington, D.C.: Pen and Booth.


Tseng, Joseph. Interpreting as an Emerging Profession in Taiwan -- A Sociological Model. Unpublished Master's Thesis, Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan, 1992.



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