How to Translate Apology and Non-apology in Legal Contexts: A Linguistic Analysis of Potentially Serious “Subtle Mistranslation” in Japan

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Rendering equivalency in the translation of apologies is a perennial difficulty for court interpreters, especially given the likely involvement of cross-cultural differences with regard to remorse, since they may or may not imply admissions of guilt. This article discusses translations during the 2009 Japanese trial of an English-speaking defendant that appeared subtly to shift the defendant’s ‘non-apologies’ and ‘semi-apologies’ toward ‘apologies’. The difference between the expression “I felt bad” used by the defendant and the Japanese apologetic expression used by the translator is explained with reference to the pragmatic notions of speech acts, presuppositions, and implicature. Such pragmatically inaccurate translations highlight the difficulty of the court interpreter’s job, and show that judges and attorneys should be sensitive to the judgement calls that interpreters inevitably make and to the possibility that the translations they receive may convey erroneous implications.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019 Jan 1



  • Apology
  • Court interpreting
  • Implicature
  • Presupposition
  • Speech act

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Law

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