How do you say “Defense” in Tigrinya?

by desa on April 25, 2011

A murder case in Oakland, CA is shedding light on the increasing importance of skilled court interpreters who can work in languages that are little known to Americans. In the case, which is being covered extensively by the San Jose Mercury News, two Eritrean brothers are accused of killing their in-laws in revenge for what they believed was the poisoning death of another brother. Quotes in the case attributed to Asmerom Gebreselassie, who prosecutors charge (with the help of his brother) shot his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, indicate that the defendant doesn’t have the best grasp of conversational American English. In incriminating statements to police about his sister-in-law and her family the defendant said: “She is evil, man… Let me tell you that much.” He told the court his claim that the killings were self-defense because the family had lured him to their apartment in order for them kill him are “110 percent the truth.” In fact the defendant himself seemed to recognize the language limitations, and asked for an interpreter when he took the stand earlier this month, saying: “People have been misled because the truth has been hidden from them. I would like them to know the truth entirely. This case is about our society, about things that are acceptable and not acceptable, things that are disgusting.”

However, the trial ended up having to be suspended after the defendant’s morning testimony because the interpreter wasn’t doing a good job. According to the Mercury News, “The translator used during the morning session appeared to have difficulties translating statements made by Gebreselassie…the translator was not repeating Gebreselassie’s answers verbatim but instead summing up his answers.” So, at the defendant’s lawyer’s request, the trial was postponed until a capable interpreter could be found. Another interesting point: the reporter on that story repeatedly used the term “translator” when what he was actually referring to was the work of an interpreter. I’m not sure what native language the defendant speaks but Tigrinya and Arabic are predominant in Eritrea. It is arguably easier to find an Arabic interpreter in California than it is to find one that speaks fluent Tigrinya.

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