Date: 24 Nov 2012

Garment, or Upper-Garment? A Matter of Interpretation?


In an adversarial common law courtroom, where one party tries to defeat the other by using words as weapons, polysemous words more often than not pose a problem to the court interpreter. Unlike in dyadic communication, where ambiguity can be easily clarified with the speaker by the hearer, court interpreters’ freedom to clarify with speakers is to a large extent restricted by their code of ethics. Interpreters therefore can only rely on the context for disambiguating polysemous words. This study illustrates the problem of polysemy in an interpreter-mediated rape trial. It exemplifies how the interpreter’s goal to avoid contradictions by making her interpretation of a polysemous word consistent with the preceding context runs counter to that of the bilingual cross-examiner, whose primary goal is to identify inconsistencies in the hostile witness’s testimony in order to discredit him. This study also manifests a denial of the interpreter’s latitude in the interpretation of contextual clues and her loss of power in a courtroom with the presence of other bilinguals.