Translation services with non-standardised languages: what happens at the point of language contact when social pressures conflict with professional ethics?
The linguistic situation of Sierra Leone poses an interesting challenge to a hybrid tribunal such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). Sierra Leone is one of the smaller countries in West Africa; its population is now estimated to be around 6 million. Over 20 languages are in use of which Mende, Themne, Limba, and Kono are the most important indigenous ones, but they exist besides the official ex-colonial language English and its Creole descendant, called Krio.
Krio is used as a native language with ethnic reference mainly ...view middle of the document...
Their common means of communication became Krio which led them to neglect their ethnic languages. Furthermore, the new leaders acknowledged that they had to speak Krio in order to be understood, not only by their direct subordinated, but by the citizens in general. Therefore, unofficially, but powerfully, Krio has started to replace English in certain official, mainly political, domains where oral communication prevails.
Languages at the Special Court for Sierra Leone
The SCSL’s official language is English, which means that the language spoken during hearings is English and that all written records are in English. However, Sierra Leone is a multi-lingual country with 24 languages. English is obviously the most valuable one, because anyone trying to understand what has been recorded in SCSL court records as part of Sierra Leone′s history must be literate in English. Although there are no fully reliable figures, it may been that two thirds of the population cannot read and write English (or any other language). Even though there has been a strong and outspoken determination by the Special Court to render all public documents accessible to the Sierra Leonean (and international) community and to keep all the proceedings public, the language barrier is so high that in fact a large portion of the population remains excluded. This exclusion stands in sharp contrast to one important goal which – among other legal and ethical motives – legitimizes the establishment of international criminal courts, namely the development for an understanding of the principles of impartiality, independence and equality before the law.
However, access to first hand information is not only restricted in the area of the written. All the accused persons as well as all the witnesses are entitled to speak in the language of their choice and to have everything interpreted into the language of their choice. Yet again and very unfortunately, the Sierra Leonean audience in the public gallery is not privy to access the court′s interpretation of the hearings which is reserved to the people inside the court room. In order to compensate for this negligence the court’s Public Affairs Office has been producing regular radio broadcasts containing portions of Krio interpretations of the testimonies and video recordings with voiceovers in Krio and three of the most widely spoken languages that are shown in the provinces by the SCSL Outreach Section.
Shaped by the common law tradition the witness with his or her oral testimony is moved into centre stage. The teams of the prosecution as well as of the defence lawyers prepare their witnesses for the examination in chief and the subsequent cross-examination before the judges in numerous interviews to extract the evidence they need in order to build their case. The way the witness’ story is told depends on a number of factors, most of which are case-related, but some of which are linguistic, social and/or cultural. For convenience...