IPCITI day 2

The second day of the IPCITI conference began with a keynote panel, Graham Turner, CTISS, Heriot-Watt University Claudia Angelelli, CTISS, Heriot-Watt University Martin Gallagher, Police Scotland Delphine Jaouen, NHS Scotland. The discussion was on ‘Interpreting theory and practice in dialogue’ and touched mainly on how theory and practice can be relevant to each other. Its an important topic that academics often reflect on because there is a desire to make research worthwhile.

Inevitably, watching this debate I was carrying out my own checks to make sure what I was doing in my PhD was relevant. My PhD is funded by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH). Part of the funding requirement is that two universities come together to form a partnership. In my case, the partnership is between Heriot-Watt University and the Scottish Institute of Police Research at the University of Dundee. Another criteria to the SGSAH funding is the inclusion of a non-academic partner, who are Police Scotland and SignVideo. It is through this collaboration an exchange is expected to happen. The sharing of knowledge and practice between all institutions.

Finally, I have joined a university that has a strong history in sharing knowledge gained through research with the community. Here at Heriot-Watt University we are part of the EdSign Lecture series and Bridging the Gap. These are examples of where research is shared with the community but also conversations with the community happen to inform research questions. In addition, I have worked on the Justisign project and Insign project where much of the research was shared in BSL and English via social media. I stepped in to an academic community that was active in making research accessible.  This inspired me to create this dedicated PhD website where information is presented in BSL and English.

This isn’t the end. We do need to keep checking our strategies and approaches with sharing research and communicating with the public. We need to constantly review how we share information and whether the messages are being fully understood.

IPCITI – Day 1


Dr Ana Frankenberg-Garcia (University of Surry) gave a really fascinating keynote presentation on how researchers are using corpora data to look and perform comparisons between texts that are not translated with texts that are translated.

This was new field to me and it was clear how corpora of texts can provide a powerful insight to how text based languages are typically expressed, especially from texts that were not translated. How words are used and sentences are designed on a large scale is mind blowing, especially when you hear Dr Frankenberg-Garcia explain her work consisting of 8,000 sentences or 100,000s words. The real joy in using corpora data, in my view, occurred when Dr Frankenberg-Garcia looked between languages to see where differences or similarities occurred. Simple examples such as ‘nowadays’ and describing where this word was typically located in English sentences with the Portuguese counterpart (initial, middle or end) or what words were collocated with the description ‘brown’ in English and Portuguese. In Portuguese it was brown dwarf (the star) or brown leather and it was not brown rice or brown hair but wholemeal rice and chestnut hair (much more creative use of language). On a basic word level there is much that can be learned and discussed.

Moving on from looking at texts that were not translated to corpora of translated texts, here researchers can look at trends to explain why a translated text does not look or feel like a non-translated text. Dr Frankenberg-Garcia gave examples of where words were under-represented or over represented, such as the word ‘that’ was used more frequently in translated in texts and obviously a higher level of borrowing. What Dr Frankenberg-Garcia also found was translators would try to maintain similar sentence structures to the original, trying not split or join sentences.

Throughout this presentation it really struck me how little research existed on translation to or from British Sign Language (BSL) or any other sign language in the world. The door is wide open to further our understanding with how translation work is being performed. How do translators work and what are the strategies used to generate translations from or to BSL. To me this is such a valuable field, especially because translators have the time to reflect and create parallel sentences or concepts. What this looks like in reality has yet to be openly discussed.

Admittedly, to our disadvantage we don’t have a software tool that can automatically code video data of BSL so researchers can analyse how signs are articulated, collocated with other signs or how sentences are structured (translated or not). This still has to be done manually and can be a real disadvantage to students

The topic of the next presentation was Google translate among translation studies students from Saadia Elamin (Prince Sultan University, Saudi Arabia). With unrestricted access to an online translation tool students can and do turn to online resources that can help them perform translation tasks, such as homework tasks. Without proper inspection and care, students can over-depend on tools like Google translate and produce translations that are contextually incorrect. Banning the use of online translation tools in the classroom was advocated, however, Saadia did acknowledge how online technology if used with an awareness of what is contextually correct can be beneficial and support learning.

Other presentations critiqued the quality produced by machine translation, which is being used to facilitate and increase productivity of translation output. My impression was that despite some level of progress in machine translation, improvements to how machine translations develop their output, the quality was still missing and unreliable. Trained human translator input or vetting was needed to restore the quality to the intended level.

Great day so far… later this afternoon the conference will look at interpreting related topics. My closing thought would be to encourage anyone interested in conducting research on translating to or from BSL to come forward with your ideas – it is needed!

“Police Investigative Interviews and Interpreting: Context, Challenges, and Strategies” by Sedat Mulayim, Miranda Lai and Caroline Norma

Police Investigative Interviews and Interpreting: Context, Challenges, and Strategies is an accessible and useful resource for police officers who are likely to undertake an interview mediated by an interpreter or for interpreters who undertake assignments in police settings. The book covers a range of essential topics, drawing on empirical research and considers both the police and interpreter’s perspectives.

Topics include:

  • An explanation of what interpreting is, the skills required, and the role of interpreters in any work context.
  • A breakdown of investigative interviewing techniques in law enforcement. The PEACE model promoted across the UK police and the US-based Reid Technique.
  • Concerns about interpreter intervention and its impact on interview outcomes.
  • The value of word-based over meaning-based interpretation in police and legal contexts.
  • Non-linguistic factors that can have an impact on the interpreting process.


Chapter 1: This chapter unpacks general definitions of and approaches to interpreting, ranging from non-interventionist to interventionist models, and why certain concepts of interpreting are not suited to an investigative interview. The linguistic and cultural challenges when transferring concepts or meaning are also explained to justify why an interpreter may be unable to comply with a particular path determined by a speaker (or signer). This chapter makes clear the rationales that define the scope and boundaries of an interpreter’s role, the interpreter’s capacity to perform, and the need for the interpreter to respect, without interference, the relationship between clients.

Chapter 2: This chapter draws largely on a collection of descriptive work, looking at how police undertake investigative interviews and touches on issues such as formulaic language, power asymmetry, interview structure, turn-taking patterns and degree of formality (especially at the interview opening and closing stages). The investigative interview is part of an upstream (Cotterill, 2002) process and therefore what is documented here can and will influence subsequent stages. What may be a revelation to interpreters is that the police have undergone broad reforms, particularly in the way in which interviews are managed. Two major police interview models are introduced in this chapter: the PEACE model (born in the UK) and the Reid model (used in North America).

Chapter 3: This chapter paves the way for subsequent chapters, looking at specific interview approaches currently promoted in policing that now challenge us collectively to rethink how interpreters and police officers understand each other, our limitations as well as our potential for flexibility, in order to ensure a fair and just process. The authors provide examples of interpreter interventions and issues relating to the professional conduct of interpreters, along with “strategies to minimize unjustified interpreter intervention and highlight those aspects that can be monitored by the interviewer to maintain control and quality of the interview” (p.45). The authors support the stance that the officer should remain in control of their interview and the interpreter should uphold a non-interventionist approach.

Chapter 4: Continuing with the discussion around how best to navigate interviews via an interpreter, the authors explore issues around linguistic transfer, the tension between a sense-to-sense or word-for-word approach to interpreting. Linguistic transfer is interconnected with interpreting style, free or literal, and comes under heavy scrutiny because the law is very much concerned with how words are expressed, intended and their meaning interpreted. This chapter provides the reader with a collection of examples from courtroom interactions and police interviews to explain how minor changes can influence the rapport between a legal representative and citizen, the consequences of reshaping an active or passive status of a sentence, and how impressions or judgements are formulated by the way someone communicates.

Chapter 5: In the previous chapters the authors explained that interpreters make strategic decisions about how to convey meaning and ideas and limit their influence where possible. In this chapter the focus moves onto other interactional features or conventions that are affected by the interpreter’s presence such as managing turn taking, overlapping speech, reflecting any non-fluency and paralinguistic features. Once again they describe how the ‘third person in the room’ changes the interactional dynamics and ask what this means, specifically for officers undertaking an investigative interview.

Mulayim, Lai & Norma highlight how the lack of research in this area has meant inadequate training and preparation of interpreters before entering the police investigation. Interpreters are sometimes unaware of the questioning tactics employed by police officers and research has shown that ignorance on behalf of the interpreter can lead to damaging outcomes (Berk, 2009; Nakane, 2014). Likewise, police officers do not have the in-depth guidance to prepare them for the atypical nature of a police interview being conducted between a spoken and signed language.

What is not covered in this book is the use of additional professionals to facilitate the interview, for example interpreters who are deaf or deaf relays. The authors throughout the book put forward a strong argument for the least amount of intervention, underpinned by training and knowledge of the investigative interview context. I see a plethora of questions and challenges raised for the team of language professionals (deaf and hearing interpreters and/or relay) who need to collectively maintain this standard and approach where there is an added communication step. Although no solutions to this have been put forward, this book can still serve as a useful reference for professional discussion and learning.

If you are currently undertaking work in police settings, or considering entering this field, it is my recommendation to study this book from cover to cover. The book is accessible and offers useful, practical guidance on how both parties may work together to achieve best practice in police interview settings. Ultimately, this book is designed to help officers and interpreters understand each other better when placed in atypical and complex circumstances.


Berk, S. (2009). Coerced confessions : the discourse of bilingual police interrogations. de Gruyter.

Cotterill, J. (2002). Language in the legal process. Springer.

Nakane, I. (2014). Interpreter-mediated police interviews : a discourse-pragmatic approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.