Interpreting the discourse of reporting in interviews conducted by law enforcement agents


  • Simo K. Määttä University of Helsinki


public service interpreting, discourse analysis, language ideologies, police interviews, asylum interviews


This paper examines the ways in which the discourse of reporting, i.e. the implicit and explicit presence, production, and usage of written texts in public administration reifies monolingual and monolithic language ideologies in interpreter-mediated police interviews and screening interviews with asylum seekers. The goal is to provide new insights into the analysis of complex networks of power relations that determine whether human rights can actually be exercised through public service or community interpreting. The paper derives from ethnographic data emanating from participant observation as an interpreter for migrants, asylum seekers, and international offenders using French and English in the Helsinki metropolitan area in Finland. In addition to being an interpreter, the author is also a researcher informed by critical discourse studies and sociolinguistic theory. The main argument of the article is that many problems related to public service interpreting that are thought to stem from cultural differences or the interpreter’s general lack of competence can be interpreted as resulting from language ideologies, reified in the practices in which they appear. One of the most important of such practices is the discourse of reporting, effectively blurring the distinction between written and oral language and denaturalizing “spontaneous” speech of interpreter-mediated communicative encounters. The paper suggests that a critical reflection on the nature and function of language and multilingualism and the consequences of language use is necessary in order to allow the interpreter to occupy subject positions from which power relations can be negotiated and linguistic equality delivered. Such a reflection should be part of both interpreter and service provider training.