Interpreting profanity in police interviews

Sandra Hale (Corresponding Author), Natalie Martschuk, Jane Goodman-Delahunty, Mustapha Taibi, Han Xu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Professional interpreters are obliged by their codes of ethics to interpret the speakers’ speech faithfully, including offensive, profane or vulgar language. In order to achieve this goal, interpreters need to be pragmatically competent, so as to understand the intention and effect of the offensive remark in the source language and be able to appropriately render it into the target language to achieve the same effect in the hearer. Research has shown, however, that not all interpreters abide by this requirement, and many tend to tone down or even omit any offensive language, for a number of reasons, including attempts to protect the hearers or to save their own face. This study examined the ways in which Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish speaking interpreters interpreted offensive language by a suspect in a simulated police interview into English. Experienced qualified interpreters in the three languages, maintained the highest levels of pragmatic equivalence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-393
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • vulgar language
  • interpreting accuracy
  • legal interpreting
  • ethical obligations
  • code of ethics
  • trained interpreters


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