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Multilingualism in legal space: the issue of mutual understanding in ELF communication between defendants and interpreters

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jade Biyu DuORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Routledge, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Owing to its economic growth and social changes in the past two decades, China has become a popular destination for tourists, investors, and diverse communities of migrants. When foreign-language-speaking migrants interact with Chinese criminal justice system, they rely on interpreters to participate in the proceedings. Based on four-month trial observations in a Chinese city that is reported to have the highest concentration of foreign migrants in the country, this paper attempts to empirically explore the communicative complexity between foreign defendants and interpreters when they use English as a lingua franca. Drawing upon discourse analysis of recordings of seven criminal hearings that involve defendants from African countries, this paper shows how intercultural communication in the legal setting becomes challenging when primary participants in the interaction have divergent linguistic repertoires and speak different varieties of English. Variations in pronunciation become barriers to intelligibility; different legal culture and legal systems further complicates mutual understanding. This paper highlights how linguistic differences in interpreter-defendant communication disadvantage defendants in participating in judicial proceedings, which may undermine their legal rights and result in inequality and injustice.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Du B

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Multilingualism

Year: 2019

Volume: 16

Issue: 3

Pages: 317-335

Online publication date: 01/04/2018

Acceptance date: 19/03/2018

Date deposited: 28/03/2018

ISSN (print): 1479-0718

ISSN (electronic): 1747-7530

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/14790718.2018.1455687


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