Updated: Aug 16
Much though we don’t generally like to get ourselves involved in any form of legal tussle and waste time, money and sleep over it, there are times when legal proceedings are unavoidable. In these situations, we need to build a strong case based on evidence.
A common type of evidence submitted to the Singapore courts is audio/video files. The content (conversations) in these audio/visual files are first transcribed in English before they are submitted as evidence. The transcriber-translator who did the transcription or translation will also sign an affidavit in front of a commissioner of oaths, and this affidavit will be submitted to the courts together with the transcript of the recorded conversations.
A common feature of such recordings is that their audibility varies. Unlike a proper narration done by voice talents in a controlled sound environment, many of such recordings may take place in offices where participants are sitting at varying distances from the microphone, or they could be recorded phone calls made to customer service hotlines, or some may even be secretly taped conversations by people who are seeking to protect their own interests. Often, participants may talk over one another, and that can create transcription challenges for the transcriber. Another type of audio file that has become common these days is WhatsApp voice recordings that many like to use as a convenient mode of communication. Very often, there are hundreds of such recordings, of varying duration from a few seconds to minutes, to transcribe.
Recordings in Singapore come with yet another challenge – Singlish!
What is Singlish?
Singlish is the informal mix of English, Chinese (from different dialects), Malay and Tamil melded together in a way that only Singaporeans (and maybe Malaysians) can understand. Although it is bound loosely by its own grammatical structure, it is the organic by-product of growing up in a multicultural society, and it continues to evolve unrestrained by rules. Linguistic purists are appalled (or enthralled) while many Singaporeans claim it and don it like they would a cloak of honour. (For more information on Singlish, you can read our article on “The Important Role of a Singlish Transcriber”.)
More on Singlish Transcription
For the purpose of legal proceedings, the files loosely classified as ‘Singlish’ are actually multilingual conversations that come with a smattering of Mandarin, Chinese dialects and Malay too, and these are required to be audio translated into English, which is the lingua franca of our multiracial nation, and therefore, the official language of the Singapore courts.
Singlish transcription is essentially multilingual transcription. The challenge for translation project managers handling such projects is that there may be other languages or dialects included in the audio file that clients may not be aware about – sometimes just one or two sentences here and there in an hour- or two-hour-long audio. These other languages that the main transcriber-translator does not know will then have to be identified and then assigned to linguists of other languages to translate. Transcribers need to possess deep cultural understanding and acumen as well as another quality – patience! Certain sections may need to be listened to a few times, so it helps to work with transcription tools that can slow down the playback time and also to have a system in place of proofreading transcripts.
Time- and Money-Saving Tips on Legal Transcription
Remember that the files you are transcribing for legal purposes will need to be submitted to the courts at some point in time. It is important that you look for an agency based in Singapore or one that works with a transcriber-translator based in Singapore, because there may be a requirement for the transcriber-translator to sign an affidavit in the lawyer’s office in the presence of a commissioner of oaths, and in rare cases, for the transcriber-translator to present themselves in court to give evidence.
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