TACIT - Translation and Communication in Training

This project will analyse UK witness interview transcripts in order to highlight the points at which difficulties in translation and communication in general may occur and suggest ways in which to remove such obstacles in investigative interviewing.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr. Luna Filipovic
Police region
Collaboration and partnership

Norfolk Constabulary; Cambridgeshire Constabulary; Association of Police and Court Interpreters (APCI).

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Previous research carried out in the United States (Filipović 2007) has demonstrated that language use in this specific context of police interviews can bear relevance to the revelation of why serious misunderstanding occurs in investigative interviewing in multilingual environments and sometimes leads to misinterpretation of denial as confession.

In this project, we analyse UK witness interview transcripts in order to highlight the points at which difficulties in translation and communication in general may occur and suggest ways in which to remove such obstacles in investigative interviewing, thereby making the process more efficient and reliable.

Some of the areas we focus on are:

  • analysis of the potential problems in translation as a result of linguistic differences in structure and meaning between two languages
  • empathy and politeness and its impact on interviewing outcomes
  • directness vs. indirectness in information-gathering
  • complexity in legal language and its impact on accuracy and efficiency of investigative interviews

For example, a number of linguistic subtleties, potentially of great importance for the law, are missed or lost in translation or misunderstood even if communication takes place in a single language.

Languages vary in the means used to express and translate certainty versus uncertainty in statements (for example, levels of modality with different verbs like can, could, may, might, etc.) or the specification to describe events as intentional vs. unintentional (for example, I knocked off the bottle is ambiguous with regard to intentionality).

The aim in this context is to provide efficiency in translation and in the formulation of investigative questions in general in order to obtain information and linguistic evidence more accurately and efficiently.

Research methodology

The aim is for a sample of 50 interview transcripts. The content of the compiled data sets could be composed of more than one interview transcript from a few cases or all interview transcripts could come each from a different individual case. The projected target is 20 to 25 monolingual interviews (estimating about 100 pages of transcribed conversation on average per interview) and 20 tot 25 bilingual interviews (languages: ideally any of the Slavonic, Germanic, and Romance family or Mandarin Chinese).

Initially the aim is for a sample of 10 monolingual and 10 bilingual interview transcripts for the pilot study and to then collect further data as following the pilot. Thus, the minimum number of cases for the pilot analysis would be 20.

The criteria for the selection of the cases would be the themes of the interviews. Interviews are required to be data-gathering in the sense that the interviewer is trying to reconstruct what had happened rather than the formulaic noting down of personal information. It can be a cognitive interview or any other practiced format as long as it contains extensive descriptions and verbal reconstruction of the relevant and dynamic events.

Both quantitative and qualitative analyses will be carried out on the data, and the results contrasted with the previous relevant research from the United States.

Interim reports or publications

Police Interviews: Communication challenges and solutions; Editor Luna Filipović; University of East Anglia; Publication date July 2021; https://doi.org/10.1075/bct.118

Filipović, L. (2007) Language as a witness: Insights from cognitive linguistics. Speech, Language and the Law 14(2): 245-267.

Filipović, L. (2013) The role of language in legal contexts: A forensic cross-linguistic viewpoint. In Freeman, M. and Smith, F. (Eds.) Law and Language: Current Legal Issues (15). Oxford: OUP, 328-343.

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