When Analytic Linguists work in a wire room, authorized to listen to intercepted oral communications (i.e., wire tapped phone calls), they don’t “merely” listen to the words and capture the plot lines of coursing over the wire through dozens of calls from and to people under investigation for possible criminal activity. It would be irrational and impossible to expect “total objectivity” – because they, like the people they listen to, often day and night and for months on end, also are people.
Keep in mind that in a very real way, Analytic Linguists are eavesdropping, albeit for well-grounded legal reasons, on the lives of people whose conversations, were it not for a preponderance of evidence suggesting that they are involved in criminal activity, otherwise would be private and personal. Analytic Linguists come into contact with a lot of very personal information about people, their associates, friends and families – windows into many people’s lives – a fact which inevitably humanizes the players. This de-objectification of the people Analytic Linguists are listening to means that they often can come to empathize with the subjects of an investigation. This situation is loosely analogous to what is known as the Stockholm Syndrome. The ways in which Analytic Linguists deal with the psychological stresses this emotional proximity can cause (appropriately or not to their duties) are as numerous as the situations themselves and the personalities of the many Analytic Linguists working in wire rooms.
This blog is an attempt to explore what this emotional reality means to the investigative process and the challenges Analytic Linguists face, particularly in their role as translators, because it is at the translation stage of Analytic Linguists’ work that they are presenting the players to those who work in the legal system who may or may not bring criminal indictments against them.
Due to minimization rules, much of what could be heard even for a few seconds, is not admissible: conversations between wives and husbands, between a person and his or her lawyer, doctor or member of the clergy, for example, are privileged and Analytic Linguists must cease monitoring the call for a specified number of seconds before checking in again to listen to whether what is being discussed or whether or not the people talking fall into these privileged categories. Yet, even what cannot be “entered into the record” but what has been heard, can cause Analytic Linguists to have positive or negative feelings for individuals they listen to over time.
Just imagine an Analytic Linguist listening to intercepted call from an older male held in custody talking with a possible criminal associate, during which, for a few brief seconds, his much younger wife is put on the line, who sobs as he tells her that he will probably be in prison for the rest of his life – and that she should move on with hers. Due to minimization rules, that cannot be part of the record. After the prisoner resumes his conversation with the presumed associate, the Analytic Linguist may note alterations in tonalities or moments of emotional breakdown that he or she knows are due to what must be left out of the record. Depending on the severity of the alterations, they may be reflected in the transcription (i.e., [sobbing]), but how do less conspicuous alternations in tone enter into the translation? Since the context of the alteration in tone or rhythm is “off the record” – inadmissible because it occurred in a segment of the conversation that is privileged – can or should the Analytic Linguist attempt to indicate some cause for an anomaly in the flow of speech?
In their role as monitors, transcribers and translators, Analytic Linguists are not allowed to embellish, editorialize or offer personal analysis of what they hear, transcribe or translate, although they must indicate uses of ciphered or coded speech, gang slang and other oddities which they recognize while they are monitoring, inasmuch as such items are contextually relevant. This means that unless the transcription of an utterance indicates audible, identifiable emotionally laden content, when Analytic Linguists translate a transcript, they could take home a considerable amount of stressful information that they simply must keep silent.
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