Marlee Matlin knew the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa earlier this week was fake. The Oscar-winning actress, who is also deaf, feels the impostor didn't even do a very good job of faking it.
"I'd been to South Africa before and I could understand some South African sign language, and I thought to myself, wait a minute," she said. "It was almost like he was doing baseball signs or whatever. I was appalled."
Thamsanqa Jantjie is the name of the man who tried pulling himself off as a sign language interpreter. He is now claiming a schizophrenic episode caused his poor translation. Marlee Matlin, however, believes she could see him in his attempt to keep up the charade at which he was failing quite miserably.
"You can tell," she said. "I could tell, and I could tell that he's thinking to himself, oh no, how should I do this... let's see what I just did, I'll do it again."
Mouthing words and showing emotion on one's face are critical aspects of being a sign language interpreter. Jantjie did neither of these two things during his time at the Mandela memorial.
"Sign language is not international, so each country has its own sign language," Matlin said. "But in this case, each language shares something, which is facial expressions, as a part of the grammar. And to see someone standing there without any sort of movement in his body, without any sort of facial expressions that one incorporates into sign, indicates that he had no understanding of the culture, no understanding of the language."
The entire deaf community, as well as professional in the world of sign language translation are up in arms over this man's deceit. Marlee Matlin is insulted by his actions.
"I knew right then and there that he had no understanding of the culture at all," she said. "And it was offensive. It was offensive to me."
Matlin commented via Twitter about the worldwide publicity this shamed fake interpreter got.
Sign went global today! I don't want to be known as the sign language police; I'm just actress. But I'm glad to start people thinking!
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) December 12, 2013
Did you watch the memorial service for Nelson Mandela on TV this week? Did you recognize that the interpreter wasn't translating in the same manner most interpreters use? It will certainly be interesting to see if those hiring interpreters will be more careful checking credentials in the future. And while this wasn't a positive means of getting it, attention is definitely focused on the sign language translating profession now. Perhaps that will lend itself to ensuring only bona fide interpreters get hired for these events.
Image via Wikimedia