How to Translate Apology and Non-apology in Legal Contexts: A Linguistic Analysis of Potentially Serious “Subtle Mistranslation” in Japan

  • Sachiko ShudoEmail author


Rendering equivalency in the translation of apologies is a perennial difficulty for court interpreters, especially given the likely involvement of cross-cultural differences with regard to remorse, since they may or may not imply admissions of guilt. This article discusses translations during the 2009 Japanese trial of an English-speaking defendant that appeared subtly to shift the defendant’s ‘non-apologies’ and ‘semi-apologies’ toward ‘apologies’. The difference between the expression “I felt bad” used by the defendant and the Japanese apologetic expression used by the translator is explained with reference to the pragmatic notions of speech acts, presuppositions, and implicature. Such pragmatically inaccurate translations highlight the difficulty of the court interpreter’s job, and show that judges and attorneys should be sensitive to the judgement calls that interpreters inevitably make and to the possibility that the translations they receive may convey erroneous implications.


Apology Court interpreting Implicature Presupposition Speech act 



This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 26580079. I am grateful to the defendant and Osamu (Gishu) Watanabe for providing me with the data. An earlier short version in Japanese was presented in The Language and Thought SIG Meeting of IEICE, Japan in 2015 [22].


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawWaseda UniversityTokyoJapan

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