|The solution is on the left side.|
True to our tradition to occasionally poking fun at ourselves with the goal of having others learn from our mistakes, here's Judy's mistake of the week during a legal interpreting assignment.
All Judy knew was that she was to interpret at a deposition. She had the case name, the time, the plaintiff's name and the deponent's name. It's very common to get incomplete information about the cases for which you are to interpret; even if you ask. It's just something court interpreters work to live with, but we all know that it's always ideal to have as much context and background information as possible. Having had it would have solved the following situation that we are now delighted to present. In fact, it could have been prevented with a single photograph that everyone but Judy had previously seen.
The attorney is deposing a maintenance worker. That is all Judy knows about the deponent at this point.
Defense attorney: So why did you trim this tree?
Judy (interpreting): ¿Por qué recortó usted este árbol?
Deponent: Bueno, porque las ramas estaban llegando hasta la carpeta (note: last word was hard to understand).
Judy (interpreting): Well, because the branches were reaching all the way to the carpet.
Puzzled looks all around, including from Judy.
Here's an explanation: the Spanish word for carpet is not carpeta. It's incorrectly used by Spanish speakers in the U.S. all the time. The correct word for carpet in Spanish is alfombra. Carpeta is also a Spanish-language word, but it means folder, as in a manila folder that you would have on your desk. We've gotten very used to Spanglish terms, and when we hear carpeta we immediately interpret "carpet." Now, Judy was very aware that it didn't really make sense in this context to talk about carpet since the issue in question as a tree, which would most likely be outside. That said, she didn't have any other context and interpreted what she heard. Here's what followed.
Plainttiff's attorney: At this point I'd like to stipulate that my client said "cart path." Would our interpreter agree?
Judy: It is the interpreter's opinion that the deponent could have used the English-language term "cart path," but pronounced it in such a way to render it almost unintelligible.
Defense attorney: For the record, I did not hear anything resembling an English word in the deponent's answer.
Judy: Would counsel like the interpreter to clarify that the deponent meant to say "cart path"?
Both attorneys: Yes, please go ahead.
A few minutes after this incident, the defense attorney introduced an exhibit: a photograph that clearly showed an image of a golf course, a tree, a cart path, and a maintenance cart belonging to the worker. An image speaks a thousand words, and context sure is king. After the session ended, all parties agreed that this was a new one. But yes, if you pronounce "cart path" a certain way, it could sound like carpeta. Mystery solved.
We don't really know how Judy would have been able to do any better with this one under the circumstances, but it's still a mistake that's worth pointing out. Actually, mispronounced English-language words by Spanish speakers and Spanglish are very interesting topics that we don't discuss much in our industry, and we plan on writing more about them in the future.
What do you think, dear colleagues? How would you have reacted? Having asked for repetition would have resulted in the deponent repeating the word with, most likely, the same pronunciation, so the options here were limited.