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Public Service Interpretation

In its multilingualism strategy, the Union recognizes the equal status of 24 official languages of its Member States. Because of the co-existence of all these languages, Europe relies on translation and interpreting to ensure dialogue among different communities and jurisdictions. Accordingly, interpreting and translation are integral parts of EU multilingualism, which aims to grant equal rights to languages among states, therefore fulfilling equal democratic access to all citizens (Monzó-Nebot & Jiménez-Salcedo 2017Doerr 2019). At governmental level, language service provision has been considered of vital importance within the context of European cross-border communication, and translation and interpreting have been recognised as mechanisms for social cohesion for decades. The EU motto, “United in diversity”, acknowledges the importance of social policy, which addresses the governmental responses to societal imbalances in relation to basic services. Translation fosters mutual understanding and respects the rights of speakers to their languages. Translation policy, including translation and interpreting, then, is considered part of social policy, since it bridges communication in linguistically and ethnically diverse societies and it facilitates inclusive democratic participation. In this endeavour, the EU has developed a series of policy recommendations and guidelines that aim at ensuring access to translation and interpreting for all EU citizens at governmental level. However, more work to promote and improve the status of public service translation/interpreting professionals is required from national jurisdictions.

In the next sections, I will look into translation policies at a supranational level, and more precisely, the role of translation professionals in Spain and the United Kingdom. I will conclude by providing general recommendations to improve public service interpreting and translation (PSIT) in court settings.

Multilingualism in the EU: growing in diversity, challenging the norms

Let us first consider how translation and interpreting work in the EU. From the inception of the Union, Member States have demonstrated that managing a supranational legal order under a multilingual umbrella can only be done through translation (Leung 2019). In order to sustain diversity and respect for the principle of equality for all nations, all documentation must be translated into the 24 official languages used by the 28 Member States. The main objective of such translation policy is that all citizens enjoy equal conditions of democratic participation, but this raises two main challenges: first, EU multilingualism creates linguistic hierarchies (whereby some more widely used languages enjoy additional de facto prominence); and second, there is a large number of citizens whose mother tongue is not recognised as a language with official status (such as Welsh, Catalan or Breton, among others). In the past, the Union’s approach to multilingualism has been defined as idealistic with regards to translation, since the combinations into which translation can be rendered make it impossible to offer a translation service that works equally for all language pairs, currently 552. For internal purposes, the EU has given priority to languages of ‘higher status’, primarily those that enjoy prominence in international institutions, thus setting a complex linguistic hierarchy among them (Nic Craith 2006Biel 2014). Consequently, ‘procedural languages’ (English, French and German) are the working languages of the institutions; and ‘pivot languages’ (including the procedural languages, Spanish, Italian and more recently, Polish) are those used as a relay from which to translate into the rest of the official languages within institutions and among other EU bodies. In order to operationalise the work of EU institutions, each of them has established a different language regime (see Table 1), which defines the working languages that are used within them.

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