This is a study of interpreting (oral translation) and power. The thesis is based on fieldwork with participant observation from interpreted encounters in Oslo where the Norwegian state meets immigrants and foreigners.
The official interpreter role prescription in Norway is strict and limited, yet, in observations of interpreted encounters, an ambiguous and complex interpreter role is apparent. There is substantial flexibility in the interpreter role prescription and role performance.
The interpreted encounters discussed in the thesis are between individuals (who are not proficient in Norwegian) and the Norwegian state. In these encounters, the individuals are those who will suffer the gravest and most immediate consequences if the communication breaks down in one way or another. Therefore, those setting standards and developing structures for the provision of interpreting services exercise substantial power over individuals who are not proficient in Norwegian, their lives and their futures.
There are multiple layers of power in interpreted encounters. The critical position of the interpreter in communication gives this person a great deal of power over the interaction that takes place. Interpreter users, and especially the public interpreter users, have substantial power in interpreted encounters. And finally, the structural power inherent in the cultural presumptions in the state’s public administration and administration of justice is integral in the power relations in interpreted encounters.