Police cognitive interviews conducted through interpreters — an experimental study of the inherent conflicts in interlingual operations

Lai, C 2016, Police cognitive interviews conducted through interpreters — an experimental study of the inherent conflicts in interlingual operations, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Police cognitive interviews conducted through interpreters — an experimental study of the inherent conflicts in interlingual operations
Author(s) Lai, C
Year 2016
Abstract Police interviews have traditionally placed strong emphasis on interviewing suspects, and devote much less attention to interviewing victims and witnesses of crime, who may possess information critical to solving the crime. In the last two decades, cognitive interviewing has emerged from the field of psychology as a superior paradigm for interviewing victims and witnesses, enabling police interviewers to move away from the practice of indiscriminately using the same traditional interviewing techniques for suspects when interviewing cooperative victims and witnesses, who may be vulnerable, traumatised and subsequently unfit to be subjected to the same style of interviewing as suspects.

This thesis examines the application of cognitive interviewing involving non-English speaking victims and witnesses to understand how the paradigm works (or otherwise) and to what extent it works when interlingual mediation by a language interpreter is employed. To date, there have been no known studies on whether this protocol retains the same level of efficacy confirmed in literature in monolingual settings mostly emanating from Anglophone countries.

This study conducted a series of laboratory experiments using a pair of monolingual English cognitive interviews that incorporated features of cognitive interviewing, adopted into bilingual interviews across eight different languages (all paired with English). Through qualitative and descriptive statistical analysis of the data generated by eight participant interpreters, the researcher ascertained whether the interpreted versions of the interviews retained the same cognitive interviewing features and verbal strategies intended by the original English monolingual design, and how much the bilingual versions resembled or deviated from the monolingual version as a benchmark.


Data analysis of this study established that the common ground between the interviewer’s and interpreter’s knowledge schema was low. Unless the interpreter had prior knowledge and understanding of the cognitive interviewing protocol through previous training or briefing by the police, some verbal strategies and features were changed or completely missing in the bilingual versions. Furthermore, the desired uninterrupted free-form narratives afforded by the interviewee as a result of the successful application of the protocol conflicted fundamentally with the cognitive requirements and linguistic operations of the interpreting process. The truncated version of the interviewee’s narration due to the process of interpreting, therefore, presents risks to disrupt the interviewee’s intensive recall effort.

This research has implications for Anglophone police using cognitive interviewing with victims and witnesses who do not speak English, yet possess critical information to solve crimes. This is particularly in the light of the constant frustration experienced by police and victims/witnesses who are unable to communicate with each other due to a lack of appropriately skilled interpreters. This research highlights a possible need to adjust the application of the cognitive interviewing protocol in bilingual settings when interlingual mediation is employed. The researcher argues strongly that specialised training on the cognitive interviewing protocol should be developed and made available to interpreters who might be engaged by police for such interviews, with an aim to develop the interpreters’ knowledge schema and foster cognitive common ground between interpreters and the police. Interdisciplinary research in the future is recommended to follow up on this pioneering study.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Studies
Subjects Translation and Interpretation Studies
Law and Legal Studies not elsewhere classified
Keyword(s) police interpreting
cognitive interview
police interview
legal interpreting
interpreter mediated interview
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Created: Thu, 29 Jun 2017, 11:25:57 EST by Denise Paciocco
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