bq. A few years ago I encountered this problem in a case in which English transcripts of Spanish speakers in undercover tape recordings were used as evidence. The prosecution provided only an English translation of the tapes. Even with my limited knowledge of Spanish I could tell that they were dead wrong in several crucial places. I pointed this out to the defense attorney who then commissioned a translation of his own. Not surprisingly, it showed that the government’s translation was badly in error. Naively perhaps, the judge then ruled that the two opposing translators should get together and try to agree on a single, accurate translation. This effort failed miserably, of course, and the judge finally ruled that both translations could be used at trial. His decision was hardly Solomonic but it was better than many of the usual judicial rulings about the use of foreign languages at trial.
It is a big problem that judges are unaware of language problems but don’t recognize this gap in their knowledge.
Shuy is a forensic linguist and it is great that he is on Language Log. I thought he’d posted before but his name is not listed as a regular contributor, unfortunately.