I watched part of the Nelson Mandela memorial on CNN and was pleased to see a sign language interpreter right next to the speakers. Since I am not familiar with South African Sign Language I did not really examine the interpreter in any detail. Then the news broke out from several sources that the interpreter was a fake. WTF? Who would do such a thing? Why would someone do such a thing? And how could this happen at the Mandela memorial?
I am assuming that most readers have already read this story or have seen it on the TV news (if not check out the source links below). It's final exam week here at my university and I am in the middle of grading student essays from my Deaf World Japan course. I want to post a few quotes from various sources that seem especially relevant and important as the course draws to a close:
The sign language interpreter at Tuesday's memorial service in Johannesburg for Nelson Mandela may have appeared to have been translating spoken words into gestures during the four hours he appeared on television screens around the world, but he was a fake, observers said Wednesday. (CNN)
Four hours? Interpreters usually need to switch off every 15-20 minutes.
UK deaf news blog The Limping Chicken said the sign language interpreter had a "strange repetitive rhythm to his movements", and "the structure of his hand and body movements didn't seem to change no matter what the speaker was saying"... Blog editor Charlie Swinbourne said the man "made a mockery of our language". (BBC)
The man showed no facial expressions, which are key in South African sign language, and his hand signals were meaningless... (CNN)
I constantly preach about the importance of facial expression in sign language. Here's more proof.
Though each country has its own sign language, all of them entail facial expressions, she [a sign language expert] said. She called his lack of facial expression "a giveaway." (CNN)
...[I]n a statement, the government said it "wishes to assure South Africans that we are clear in defending the rights and dignity of people with disabilities". (BBC)
How is this a disability issue? Isn't this a language interpretation issue? Imagine if a English interpreter was voicing some gobbledygook rather than the real interpretation.
"I knew exactly... that he wasn't authentic at all, and it was offensive; it was offensive to me." (CNN)
If the accusations that the man was a "fake" turn out to be true, "on a day when the world saluted a man who fought oppression, a guy stood on stage and effectively oppressed another minority - deaf people", Mr Swinbourne wrote. (BBC)
This is yet another example of how deaf people are denied the right to information.
Japan Today covered the story as well with readers leaving comments. Here are some examples that illustrate a lack of knowledge and/or sensitivity about deaf people:
Sign language seems to be a secret language which no one can understand.
That was enough for me. I knew what he tried to say.
If a complaint is made and no one is around to hear it, is there an issue?
I couldn't help but laugh at this, I might go to hell for this, but admit it, it is quite funny.
I think that is the problem- rather than even try to get an interpreter the countries are faking it and expecting people not to care - i guess they feel being hearing impaired means there is a learning impairment as well - right?
That's HYSTERICAL ( sorry deaf people ).
Saw this on TV. As I can't read sign language, I can only say that this dude seemed to know what he was doing. Now that I know he's fake ... it is funny to watch him in action.
Let's hope we find out more about this fake interpreter and that this will be an opportunity for people to learn more about deaf people and sign languages.
Japan Today: http://www.japantoday.com/category/world/view/sign-language-interpreter-at-mandela-memorial-a-fake
UPDATE: 'Fake' sign language interpreter at Mandela memorial claims it was 'schizophrenic episode'
Story from The Telegraph, 12/12/13:
The "fake" sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial service has claimed he suffered a schizophrenic episode on stage that left him unable to do his job properly
The man, named as local media as Thamsanqa Jantjie, said he is unsure whether it was the magnitude of what he was doing or the happiness he felt throughout the day that might have triggered the attack.
“There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it’s the situation I found myself in," he told the Johannesburg Star.
Mr Jantjie said that during his episode, he continued seeing things and hearing loud voices in his head that impaired his ability to hear well and interpret what was being said.
He told the newspaper that he could not leave, so stayed on and continued to sign things that did not make sense.
Read the whole story: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/nelson-mandela/10512672/Fake-sign-language-interpreter-at-Mandela-memorial-claims-it-was-schizophrenic-episode.html
Here's another interesting source (ABC) that shows video of the "fake" alongside video of the sign language interpreter used on TV by the South African Broadcasting Corporation:
Nelson Mandela memorial 'fake' sign language controversy: who's the man in the suit?