Oscar trial lost in translation?

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00027742 MEDIA POOL Former Boschkop police station commander, Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg, takes the stand at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Picture: Alet Pretorius

Pretoria - The dubious translation during the Oscar Pistorius trial – again under the spotlight on day nine – may affect the outcome.

Interpreting experts said the chancy interpretation throughout the trial is bordering on misinformation.

Dr Eleanor Cornelius, senior lecturer in the department of linguistics at the University of Johannesburg and a trained and certified translator with the SA Translators’ Institute (Sati) said that during a court case, every single word carries weight. Sati chairman Johan Blaau agreed.

Thursday saw another blunder by the translator as State witness, former policeman Colonel Giliam van Rensburg, testified.

Defence attorney Barry Roux had to correct the interpreter on misinterpretation several times:

Van Rensburg (in Afrikaans): “… when we arrived there were towels and black garbage bags on the scene…

Interpreter: “… there was black clothing…”

Van Rensburg: “… the person was already dead when the paramedics arrived…”

Interpreter: “The body died on their arrival.”

Van Rensburg: “… at that stage we had already been on duty for 24 hours…”

Interpreter: “… we were 24 on duty…”

Van Rensburg: “… Mr Pistorius was very emotional…”

Interpreter: “… Mr Pistorius was emotional…”

Blaau says small words like these that are not conveyed properly are vital in the judge consuming the information and reaching a conclusion.

Cornelius said that during a court case one cannot use approximate meanings. It has to be the exact meaning of the word used by the witness.

“Even small words, for example “very emotional” and just “emotional” used today.”

Experts believe the blunders during the trial might be because the interpreters used thus far are not properly qualified to do the job.


Cornelius believes this has cast a negative image on interpreters in the country.


Those following the trial on Twitter have not shied away taking on Thursday’s translator.

Trevor Noah – @Trevornoah: Is the court interpreter translating from English to English?

Yusuf Abramjee – @Abramjee: This interpreter is missing key words… They should stop the hearing and get a proper interpreter.

??Chervon Daniels –@ChervonD: I must say the interpreter today is SHOCKING!!

shane ?@shanetimms: NOT professional at all. It’s a JOKE


Judy Ditchfield ?@JudyDitchfield: Interpreter giving incorrect translations. Not on.

Mark Barnard ?@trambowil: Embarrassing for SA – a CATTLE FARMER would do a BETTER JOB.

Pretoria News

Click here for IOL’s live blog about the Oscar trial.

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