Linguistic mediation in an English-dominant legal system

Isabel Martin, Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines

Although the Philippines is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, English remains the only dominant language in many important domains of society. This is especially true in the legal domain where laws are written and courtroom hearings conducted almost entirely in English, a language inaccessible to many Filipinos. Attempts by government to introduce the national language in the courts have had very limited success and prospects for using other Philippine languages remain dim. Interpreting is therefore used to improve accessibility, but it is often bilingual judges themselves who verify statements and explain proceedings in the language of participants. Judges thus have an important role as linguistic and cultural mediators, as well as interpreters of the law. The current study focuses on this mediatory role as a component of trial court judges’ efforts to reach impartial decisions. Through an analysis of survey questionnaire responses and personal interviews of judges in the Rizal Province, as well as observation and recorded data from courtroom hearings, the presentation demonstrates the many challenges judges face in mediating with non-English speakers.

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