Bungling interpreter ‘embarassed SA’

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A man passing himself off as a sign language interpreter punches the air during a speech being given by India's President Pranab Mukherjee at a memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB soccer stadium in Johannesburg. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Johannesburg - South Africa was left with egg on its face after the alleged blunder of a sign language interpreter appointed for the memorial service of former president Nelson Mandela, the SA Translators' Institute (Sati) said on Wednesday.

“We suspect there was something underhand about him. How else was he working on such an important occasion when he did not seem to know what he was doing?” said chairman of Sati, Johan Blaauw.

The man interpreted the speeches of scores of dignitaries including US President Barack Obama and President Jacob Zuma at the memorial service at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Blaauw said the same man was used to interpret the proceedings at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung last year and there were complaints made against him then.

“The ANC did not do anything,” said Blaauw.

“I'm afraid this thing has left the whole of South Africa with egg on its face.”

Blaauw said while he was not a sign language interpreter, he was working with a few interpreters and they had discredited the man's use of the language.

“They have looked at the video shots where you can actually see the accredited sign language at the bottom hand of the tv screen,” said Blaauw.

“The two did not correspond,” he said.

“That person was not using sign language, not even signs accepted in the sign language.”

He explained that while sign language semantics differed from country to country, basic grammar of sign language remained relatively similar.

“The common grammar can be recognised across the various sign languages in the world,” said Blaauw.

“It's been the response across the world that he wasn't using the language but just making funny gestures.”

Blaauw said such things occurred because there was no proper regulation for sign language interpreters.

He called on a regulation to be put in place where sign language interpreters could be registered and accredited.

Anyone who then needed the services of an interpreter could then check on the accreditation register, said Blaauw.


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