Watch your language, or else


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Translators and interpreters will have to mind their language now that the National Assembly has sent the SA Language Practitioners' Council Bill to President Jacob Zuma for enactment.

Substandard translators have blighted several high-profile events.

In December, Thamsanqa Jantjie was caught faking sign language at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

At the murder trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius an interpreter was accused of mangling witnesses' testimony.

University of Johannesburg senior linguistics lecturer Eleanor Cornelius said that, provided the establishment of the SA Language Practitioners' Council as set out in the bill was "sound", it could rid this country of unqualified and inept translators.

She said: "The council will hopefully ensure that the profession is protected."

Until now, translators and members of similar occupations have been largely regulated by the SA Translators' Institute, which was established in 1956.

The institute set standards and accredited professionals.

Institute chairman Johan Blaauw said that though the council looked like a good idea on paper there were issues that needed further attention.

"According to the bill, the council might consider granting accreditation to someone based on his qualifications and not on tests, which is how we have been conducting accreditation," Blaauw said.

Cornelius added that limited career advancement opportunities for court interpreters could further harm the justice system.

Michelle Burger, a witness in the Oscar Pistorius trial, chose to testify in English after she apparently lost faith in the interpreter.

But Justice Department spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said the department was "fully satisfied" with the interpreter and that the matter was "well under control".

"The identified mistake is not of a nature that renders the function inefficient. There is no intention to replace the interpreter," Mhaga said.

There are 1942 permanent interpreters in the courts and over 2000 interpreters were trained by the Justice College between 2007 and July 2013.

The University of Johannesburg's linguistics department - in partnership with the Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuurvereniging and Vriende van Afrikaans – will hold a language symposium from tomorrow to Friday during Multilingualism Week.

The event will include a multilingual quiz for children, talks on multilingualism and demonstrations highlighting the role and value of interpreters.