On court interpreting at the Shell-Eni Nigeria trial. Pragmatic aspects

31 May 2024
Room E1

On court interpreting at the Shell-Eni Nigeria trial. Pragmatic aspects

The present paper examines the role of the interpreter as an “intrusive element” (Berk-Seligson, 2002[1990]: 96) in the courtroom by analysing selected excerpts of the Shell-Eni Nigeria trail, during which some unqualified and manifestly inadequate interpreters appointed by the Court of Milan failed to convey the semantic and pragmatic meaning of source-language utterances and were, in given cases, even replaced by the interpreters present for Shell’s staff. The analysed material has been downloaded from the website of Radio Radicale, providing the audio recordings of the whole trial starting in 2018 and ending in 2021. The investigation covers the first five months of the trial, centring on those hearings in which the interpreting service was required owing to the presence of English-speaking witnesses. The analytical methodology builds on Berk-Seligson’s (2002[1990]) and Hale’s (1996) seminal studies of interpreter-mediated courtroom interaction, which clarify that “interpreting accurately means interpreting pragmatically” (Hale, 1996: 61) in that it enables the preservation of the illocutionary and perlocutionary force of speakers’ utterances. The study also draws on conversation analytic-informed approaches to dialogue interpreting (Straniero Sergio, 2012) to gain clearer insights into the intercultural communication challenges arising during the Shell-Eni trial. Besides revealing a number of instances in which interpreters alter the pragmatic aspects of the interaction among judges, lawyers and witnesses, the findings shed light on the coordinating role (Wadensjö, 1998: 108-110) of the interpreters, who often carry out explicit coordination strategies such as asking for clarifications, interrupting interlocutors or inviting them to resume talking (Merlini, 2015: 105), thereby fostering comprehension between Italian and English-speaking participants in the trial. In addition, the results suggest that repetitions are also deliberately harnessed by some interpreters to ensure cohesion and coherence among conversational turns (Straniero Sergio, 2012: 30) and to make utterances more intelligible for interlocutors (Straniero Sergio, 2012: 51).



Berk-Seligson, S. (2002[1990]). The Bilingual Courtroom. Court Interpreters in the Judicial Process. The University of Chicago Press.

Hale, S. (1996). Pragmatic considerations in court interpreting. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 19(1), 61-72.

Merlini, R. (2015). Dialogue interpreting. In Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies (pp. 102-107). Routledge.

Straniero Sergio, F. (2012). Repetition in dialogue interpreting. In Interpreting across Genres: Multiple Research Perspectives (pp. 27-53). EUT.

Wadensjö, C. (1998). Interpreting as Interaction. Longman.