Translanguaging on trial: Immediate versus mediated performance in the legal process

Katrijn Maryns (Universiteit Gent)

Current language regulations and policy responses to increasing minority participation in the legal process are premised on the idea that the interests of linguistic minority speakers are best served if they express themselves in their native language through an interpreter. This principle, which assumes full monolingual competence on the part of the speakers, poses a particular challenge to the more flexible forms of multilingualism progressively encountered in legal practice. Analysis of the testimony of a Serbian witness in a murder trial at the Assize Court of Antwerp demonstrates that the efficacy of multilingual communication is not merely conditioned by the participants’ language resources and abilities, but also largely contingent on the status of the discourse and the functions it has to serve in the given context. It is argued that while in some settings, the risk of loss of accuracy outweighs the potential benefit of immediate communication between client and institution, the value of immediate performance may also counterbalance considerations of linguistic fluency and detail.