Rare language interpreting problems
Thread poster: Edward Potter

Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:00
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 2, 2007


Rare languages a challenge for courts By STEPHEN MANNING, Associated Press Writer

ROCKVILLE, Md. - After three years of searching, officials finally found an interpreter available for the sexual abuse case against a Liberian man who is one of only about 100,000 people worldwide who speak Vai.

But it was too late.

A Montgomery County judge dismissed the charges against Mahamu Kanneh last month, saying problems securing Vai interpreters contributed to repeated delays that violated his right to a speedy trial.

Kanneh learned of the decision through the interpreter.


mediamatrix (X)
Local time: 09:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
Been there, done that ... Aug 2, 2007



Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
Moral Aug 2, 2007

"Commit all the crimes you want, but make sure you only speak a language that very few people understand".


Mary Stefan  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:00
Member (2006)
Romanian to English
+ ...
Funny Henry... Aug 3, 2007

and scary at the same time!

Talking about interpreters or translators of rare languages:

Few days ago I was contacted by a well-known translation agency and asked to translate a tape from Romanian into English. It was a wire-tapped conversation between two criminals in Romania. So far nothing new! I started listening to the tape and realized I did not understand a thing. Half way through it hit me: it was a mixture of Romani and Romanian.
Romani is still wide-spoken among the Gypsy population in Romania, but finding someone to translate from Romani into English seems to be a hard job (at least to me, I might be wrong). I actually wondered why they chose to carry THIS conversation in two languages. Did they know something!?!

...and I thought I should learn Chinese next! : )


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
In another case it could backfire Aug 3, 2007

I had mentioned this case in another recent posting on this same subject.

The case of Santiago Ventura Morales in Oregon turned out quite different. A Mexican who only spoke an indigenous language, he was wrongly convicted of murder. His defense was impeded due to the fact that he was unable to understand the proceedings.

Eventually he was exonerated and apparently the party who was actually guilty of the murder was also discovered.

An additional problem when dealing with such languages is that despite belonging to an identifiable language group (Mixteco I think in his case), from information I have seen, dialects of the "same" language can vary so much from one village to another that mutual intelligibility can be very low.

Therefore, an interpreter would not only have to know that language, but the specific dialect of the language spoken in the subject's native village.

From what I have seen, Ventura was provided with a Spanish language interpreter in the proceedings. I cannot imagine what might have been going through that interpreter's head. Had I been there, I would have immediately informed the court that I could not interpret for the defendant, who apparently knew no more than a few words of Spanish.

There are increasing numbers of undocumented Mexicans (and Central Americans) from non-Spanish speaking indigenous groups arriving in the U.S. All that just leads me to wonder how they are being dealt with, especially when they have contact with the law.


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Rare language interpreting problems

Advanced search

CafeTran Espresso
You've never met a CAT tool this clever!

Translate faster & easier, using a sophisticated CAT tool built by a translator / developer. Accept jobs from clients who use SDL Trados, MemoQ, Wordfast & major CAT tools. Download and start using CafeTran Espresso -- for free

More info »
Protemos translation business management system
Create your account in minutes, and start working! 3-month trial for agencies, and free for freelancers!

The system lets you keep client/vendor database, with contacts and rates, manage projects and assign jobs to vendors, issue invoices, track payments, store and manage project files, generate business reports on turnover profit per client/manager etc.

More info »

  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search