The working method of LINGUA – The interview as a basis for the analysis

In order to carry out the analysis of origin process, the subject is interviewed by an expert or a specially trained interviewer and the interview is recorded. This procedure differs from the method used in many other countries where the interview is carried out by the case officer1) with the help of an interpreter. There are several reasons for having a direct interview using an expert or a specially trained interviewer: it is possible to ask the questions that are relevant for the expert both on the culture and also on the language(s) which the subject speaks; the interview is conducted outside the framework of an asylum interview and does not go into the subject's reasons for seeking asylum; the expert or interviewer talks to the subject in all his/her stated languages (if this is possible); the expert will have enough spoken material from the subject since duplications2) (translation/retranslation) are avoided.

During the interview and in the analysis which follows, the expert must rely on the details and the profile given by the subject and, correspondingly, evaluate his/her language competence and his/her statements. A certain amount of information on the profile of the subject is checked at the beginning of the interview, including the region of origin and languages spoken but also the ethnicity, family origin, education and chosen profession or job. The topics covered in the interview must be adapted to the level of education and social background of the subject and his/her knowledge and speech competence must be evaluated with reference to his/her biography. It is important that the interview is conducted as naturally and spontaneously as possible, so that, particularly on a linguistic level, the best possible collection of data can be achieved. This is not always easy in view of the circumstances under which the interviews take place. The interviewing technique, therefore, forms an important component in the training of experts and has also been the subject of a research project3) initiated by LINGUA. The experts communicate with the subject via telephone. For reasons of security and anonymity, face to face interviews are usually avoided. Furthermore, the use of the telephone makes it possible to conduct several interviews on the same day, even though the subjects may be in a variety of locations all over Switzerland. If an expert lives abroad, the communication can be carried out using a telephone conference link.

The interview, which normally lasts between 45 to 60 minutes, is recorded. This recording represents the legal basis for the analysis.The expert can listen to the interview as often as necessary in order to complete the analysis. If need be, the recording can be sent to other experts. All this allows a variety of experts to combine their linguistic and cultural knowledge so that even more complex cases can be adequately dealt with. This also allows for the testing of experts and for the checking of the quality of the interview and/or the checking of the quality of the report produced by another expert.

1) Case officer: this is the term employed to design the person (within the administration) in charge of the files of asylum seekers or illegal foreigners, who takes the asylum and/or repatriation decision.

2) Cf. MARYNS Katrijn: «Identifying the asylum seeker: reflections on the pitfalls of language analysis in the determination of national origin». The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Formerly Forensic Linguistics. Birmingham, 2004, vol. 11 (2), pp. 240-260; Contribution (Oral communication) by Jan den Thije at the Workshop «Language Analysis in Refugee Status Determination», at the 16th Sociolinguistics Symposium, Limerick, Ireland, 6-8 July, 2006

3) In the year 2006/2007, LINGUA had at its disposal research funds, which were to be specifically used for research on LINGUA interviews. In this particular research project it was not only a question of developing a better understanding of the concrete parameters under which the interviews were conducted, but also of attaining an improvement in the quality of the interviews, that is to say, the actual course and preparation of the interview by the interviewer.

Last modification 06.07.2021

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