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Translation of
Witness Statements
Poon Wai Yee Emily
The Open University of Hong Kong
1. Characteristics of Witness Statement
 translation + interpretation
 mode of interpretation:
consecutive interpretation (接續傳譯) + sight
translation (視譯) + whispering (耳語傳譯)
 language: colloquial Cantonese
 court evidence: accuracy and fidelity all
contribute to high quality translation
2. Function of Witness Statement
The Function of a witness statement is a
combination of expressive, informative and vocative.
Expressive function: author-centred, the personal
use the writer makes of his language.
Informative function: the extralinguistic information
content of the text.
Vocative function: reader-centred (strong emotions
and persuasive force)
(Newmark 1982: 12)
3. Court Discourse
Courtroom discourse shows a juxtaposition of
power and powerlessness. Powerful participants
will try to control a less powerful witness’s
testimony to influence the outcome of a case. The
two parties in the courtroom have conflicting
Result: A translator is working for all parties, and is
caught between conflicting interests and pressures.
Therefore, his/her translation must be accurate and
4. Original Text
5. Meaning and Style / Form
Style / form contains critical elements of the
 voice level / tone
 hesitation
 false starts
Meaning and style / form are important notions
related to substance, and will be taken into
consideration by the court to determine credibility.
a. * Aren’t you fxxking convinced?
b. * You aren’t happy about it, are you.
Improved version: You seem damned unhappy
about it, don’t you?
The word “damned” is not foul language. It is a
strong word to imply an emphasis.
c. Don’t fucking like it? Do you?
It’s spoken text. The use of the very strong expletive
gets the idea across of “strong dislike” or “great
d. Do you feel fucking deflated?
e. Frigging resentful, huh?
Frigging is a strong word and euphemism for
6. Ambiguity
6.1 Disambiguate a sentence
In order to approximate the original text as closely
as possible with his translation, Rayar (1988: 542)
held the view that a translator is first of all faced
with having to disambiguate a sentence in question
by specifying the meaning of the underspecified
verb in that sentence.
Question: Is it easy to disambiguate a sentence?
6.2 Invariable and variable meanings
“不識抬舉” is defined as “不接受或不自知別人
A closer look at the definition reveals that the
expression “不識抬舉” has a core meaning “not to
behave in an accurate manner”, where one part of
this core meaning “not to behave accurately” is
invariable and the other part “in a certain accurate
manner” is variable.
6.3 Contextual meaning
To ascertain what “a certain manner” is, a translator
has to look at the context.
The context can be:
 the other sentences in the text
 the world knowledge (including the legal
knowledge) the translator possesses
Question: Based on what criteria that prompts a
translator to activate certain types of knowledge and
leave other types of knowledge unactivated?
do not behave in a
certain accurate
admit the offence
please the triad society
repay a kindness
be clever to avoid
6.4 Examples and Solution
Translate the invariable meaning only if you
cannot specify the variable meaning
You should have learned the ropes once you are in the
dubious business.
Learn the ropes: learn the procedures or rules for doing sth.
b. As one who practises trickery, you should have been wiser
than this.
You work in the underworld and should know the rules of
the game.
Underworld means criminal gangs/organized crimes. One
doesn’t need to be one of those to practice trickery —
would you call white collar criminals underworld figures? It
is marginally acceptable.
d. * You’ve been around in dishonest dealings for long
but haven’t learned appreciate my kindness.
Comment: It is inappropriate to specify the variable
a. Chappy, you really don’t know which direction the
wind is blowing.
See which way the wind is blowing: see what is
likely to happen.
b. Little brother, you don’t know the rules of the game.
c. You really do not know how to make do.
d. * Little brother, you shouldn’t bite the hands that
feed you.
Bite the hand that feed one: be unfriendly to or
harm somebody who has been kind to one.
Comment: Variable meaning is added here.
7. Translation Methodology
7.1 Cultural gaps
Definition: gaps which are due to differences in
extralinguistic reality or lexical mapping
(Ivir 1998: 37-38)
“In language, and especially in translation, there are
disjunctions at the figurative level between symbols
and the symbolized, between the figurative and its
object, and between what it is meant to convey and
what is actually conveyed.”
(Chen 2003: 41)
Linguistic Transfer: Source Language Oriented
7.2.1 Literal translation (直譯)
It is considered to be the best way to secure an
equivalent effect in the translated version.
Equivalent effect: Legal effect / legal intent.
7.2.2 Semantic translation (語義翻譯) (literal translation)
“Semantic translation attempts to render as closely as the
semantic and syntactic structures of the second language
allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original.
Semantic translation remains within the original culture…”
(Newmark 1982: 39)
“… in communicative as in semantic translation,
provided that equivalent effect is secured, the literal
word-for-word translation is not only the best, it is the
only valid method of translation.”
(Newmark 1982: 39)
7.2.3 Examples
a. You refuse a toast only to drink a penalty.
What the student means here is that the toast is a drink
offered in recognition of something (usually good), and
a penalty drink is one where you are forced to drink
something (perhaps because you made a mistake). It
does have elements of “encouragement” and “force”,
which is what the original text intends.
b. You refuse to drink a toast only to be forced to drink a
Forfeit means penalty.
a. No one with hair wants to have favus on the scalp.
b. Who would like to have a scabby head if there is
hair on his head.
 “Culture is a product of tradition which has also been
open to foreign influence … Whether a culture can grow
depends on its ability to gain a fresh appreciation of
other cultures and traditions by means of translation.”
(Sun 2003: 27-28)
 “… excessive borrowing obscures one’s own cultural
(Sun 2003: 26)
 Strategy of Foreignization
This is a way of “taking the reader over to the
foreign culture, making him or her see the cultural
and linguistic differences” (Schäffner 1995:4) and is
the strategy called “foreignization” by Venuti
(Venuti 1995:1)
This non-fluent translation style will disrupt the
cultural codes of the target language and make
visible the presence of the translator (Venuti
Cultural Transfer:
The orientation is towards cultural rather than linguistic
 Translation is not viewed as a process of transcoding,
but as an act of communication.
 Translation is oriented towards the function of the
target text rather than prescriptions of the source text.
Functional Approaches: Target Language/ Reader
7.4.1 Communicative translation ( 傳 意 翻 譯 ) (literal
“Communicative translation attempts to produce on
its readers an effect as close as possible to that
obtained on the readers of the original.
Communicative translation addresses itself solely to
the second reader, who … would expect a generous
transfer of foreign elements into his own culture as
well as his language where necessary.”
(Newmark 1982: 39)
7.4.2 Dynamic equivalence (功能對等)
“Dynamic equivalence is … to be defined in terms of
the degree to which the receptors of the message in
the receptor language respond to it in substantially
the same manner as the receptors in the source
(Nida and Taber 1982: 24)
7.4.3 Skopos theory (purpose of a translation) (目的論)
“The aim of any translation action, and the mode in
which it is to be realized, are negotiated with the
client who commissions the action … the target text,
the translatum (a term meaning the outcome of
translational action), is oriented towards the target
culture, and it is this which ultimately defines its
adequacy.” (Vermeer 1989: 173)
In Vermeer’s view, the translator has the power to
decide what content should be offered according to
the purpose of the target text specified by the needs
of the target readers.
7.4.4 Examples
a. You don’t take the carrot but take the stick.
 The carrot idea comes from the old fashioned
concept of using a carrot (attracted food) to
entice a horse to move — this carrot food being
better than a stick, i.e. violent force.
 The carrot means incentive/encouragement
while the stick means force/coercion.
b. You are asking for trouble.
c. You don’t take the easy way but the hard way./You
choose the hard way, not the smooth way.
d. You respond to the negative, not the positive.
Nobody wants to be in a tight spot.
In a tight spot: (infml) in a difficult position or
b. Did I have any alternative?
 The functional approach may lead to a severe loss of
the original meaning and therefore an absence of
 Strategy of domestication
To translate in a readable way in the target language
conforms to one of the translation strategies within the
invisibility theory proposed by Venuti (1995: 1).
The above translation approach is a domesticating way of
“bringing the foreign culture to the reader in the target
culture, making the text recognizable and familiar”
(Schäffber 1995: 4)
“… serious doubts have been raised in many
quarters by scholars of different backgrounds as
to whether functional approaches can be
legitimately applied … to legal texts, the main
objections being centred on their typical
inadmissible for legal language.”
(Garzone 1999: 392)
Source Language Approach / Target Language
Which approach is better?
This is rarely discussed and a court interpreter is free
to adopt any approach s/he likes.
 An interpreter has to assess the communicative
purpose of the original text to determine the approach
s/he will adopt.
 S/he can adopt the target language approach if the
cultural element is background information and not the
focus of the case.
 The source language approach should be taken if the
cultural element has legal implication. Faithfulness to
the source language expression and its transparency in
the target language are important to a judge’s decision.
“In the course of archieving something new,
mediators (translators and interpreters) have to
resort to novel ways of encoding an old message.”
(Neubert 1997: 19)
“Particularly with regard to technical translation,
translation and creativity seemed to be two
diametrically opposed concepts. … Therefore, the
acknowledgment of a translator’s creative input is
limited in order to minimize the semblance of
subjectivity and to keep up the myth of objectivity in
(Pommer 2008: 360)
“… even slight changes in language may affect
the substance, translators must always take
account of legal factors when making linguistic
(Wilss 1988: 11, quoted from Pommer 2008: 360)
Examples: overtranslation/wrong translation
*… he held the glass in a gesture which means
ironside 426 in gangland.
Comment: Ironside refers to a very old
American TV series about crime. Ironside was
a tough guy. Some triads may have copied this
Gangland is used in American culture to mean
the world of gangs as in the triad underworld.
*You are senior if you received respect, otherwise,
you are pig.
Pig doesn’t mean stupid person in English. It means
bad mannered, sloppy, or gluttonous.
Examples: unconventionality
a. Your Four Two Six is just wet behind the ears, doesn’t
even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
(Still) wet behind the ears: (infml) (derog) immature
or inexperienced; naive.
In the same breath: immediately after saying sth that
suggests the opposite intention or meaning.
b. You are just a new breed of 426 rank, nothing at all
if compared to me.
c. You are just an up-and-coming 426 and nowhere
near in comparison with me.
Up-and-coming: (infml) (of a person) making good
progress; likely to succeed (esp. in a career).
d. Your 426 is but a junior one, hardly my match.
e. Your 426 is only a green-horn not comparable to
Greenhorn is American slang for someone who is
new and inexperienced.
Example: novelty
a. Since we are here on earth we may as well live and get
on with it. I hardly had any choice except to admit this
particular one. I planned to go to lie low in Taiwan.
b. Since one exists in this world, one has no alternative …
Comment: Both a and b are literal translations with no
c. At the time, it was like “Hobson’s choice in the
jungle out there”. I couldn’t but confess to it. I was
thinking about heading for the hills in Taiwan.
“Hobson’s choice is a free choice in which only ONE
OPTION IS OFFERED” which basically means the
same as “hardly any choice except to admit this
particular one”, and the use of the jungle and the
hills I think is quite creative and appropriate.
Hobson’s choice means a choice of one thing – from
a list of one.
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