Verbatim reporting, transcribing someone’s speech word for word, is often praised for its accuracy. By accuracy, people often mean that the content of the original speech is reported precisely and reliably – but there is more. Besides what has been said, the verbatim report also transcribes much of how it was said, depending on the level of editing in the report. Reporting speakers’ utterances accurately gives the reader a valuable view of how they act and orient to the topic at hand. For a moment, a word-for-word transcript captures the speaker’s point of view on the matter and how they treat it linguistically. This information is carried to the reader with the words and the grammatical structures that the speakers use.
I will give some examples. Language is used to carry various social meanings, such as: are the word choices formal or informal? Do they contain specialised terminology, everyday words, dialect or slang? What groups does the speaker possibly identify with through the words that they use? Who are the intended audiences that the speaker aims to target their words to? Does the speaker follow the grammatical rules of the standard language, or do they use a non-standard variety? Does the speaker differ from other speakers in their institution, such as the parliament, with the choice of verbal register or style? If they do, what does this tell us?
Besides social styles, linguistic choices also tell us something personal about the speaker. They show us how the speaker approaches a matter, be it briefly, in detail, impressionistically, emotionally, analytically and so on. For example, in long and winding free-flowing sentences the reader can sometimes feel that they can almost follow a speaker’s train of thought in real time, and see how they cognitively process the things that they talk about.
The verbatim reporter writes a bridge between the speaker and the reader. At best, the report can even create a passage between different worlds, so that we don’t only understand how the speaker thinks about a topic; we can see how they see it, and maybe even feel how they feel. In a sense, the verbatim report is a tool for creating empathy. It helps us to connect.
To help us understand the subtle complexities of professional reporting and transcription, this issue brings us a diverse, high-quality collection of articles that focus on important aspects below the surface. Dan Kerr writes about the Hansard Services User Study made by the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Canada, and tells us how it has helped that province’s assembly to get feedback from its readers. D’Arcy McPherson, from the same assembly, introduces us to its practice of reporting indigenous languages in the verbatim report, acknowledging and honoring the rich history and culture behind them.
Several new articles discuss different technological advancements in professional reporting. Paulo Granja writes about the introduction of automatic speech recognition software in the Official Journal Division of the Portuguese Parliament. Gijs Freriks discusses how professional reporters will be able to use Artificial Intelligence widely to help them in many aspects of their work. Henk-Jan Eras analyses different issues of reliability in both written and video reporting, showing that, besides valuable assistance, new technologies also bring many new challenges to solve.
Beside many other functions, professional reporting and transcription create accessibility for all, including people with disabilities. Riikka Kuronen introduces us to the new, synchronised text alternatives that are made for video recordings, such as public hearings and press conferences, that are permanently available on the public web pages of the Parliament of Finland. Martina Bruno, on the other hand, gives us a fascinating introduction to a wide set of skills that are required of and taught to the practitioners of respeaking, which is used to produce high-quality live subtitles for television and video streaming. It is also important to note that all new practices have long roots in the past. Adrian Kelly returns us to the beginnings of some of them by providing us with intriguing historic glimpses of early court reporting in Melbourne, Australia.
At the end of this issue, in his regular column, Carlo Eugeni brings to our attention some linguistic aspects of parliamentary reporting. By analysing an important case of interruption in the French Parliament last year, he illustrates how even small-scale linguistic details in the report can have far-reaching social dimensions, and potentially powerful consequences.
Eero Voutilainen is Tiro’s editor-in-chief.