December 11th, 2013
08:57 PM ET

Marlee Matlin: Fake interpreter at Mandela memorial was 'offensive'

Shock and outrage around the world amid claims that the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial was a fake.

Interpreter at Mandela memorial dubbed a 'fake,' group says

The Deaf Federation of South Africa says the unnamed man is not a recognized professional.

"The so-called 'interpreter' who interpreted at the official memorial service for late former president Nelson Mandela at FNB stadium has been dubbed the 'fake interpreter' and the deaf community is in outrage," Bruno Druchen, national director of DeafSA, said in a statement.

"He is not known by the Deaf Community in South Africa nor by the South African Sign Language interpreters working in the field."

OutFront: Marlee Matlin, she lost her hearing when she was 18-months old, and went on to be the youngest person to win the Oscar for "Best Actress".  She currently appears on the ABC family series "Switched at Birth".

Transcript for Marlee Matlin interview:
Tapper: Shock and outrage around the world directed at this man. He was the sign language interpreter at the memorial yesterday. Many are calling him a fake interpreter who was in fact not interpreting at all. According to the deaf federation of South Africa, they say he was simply making up jibberish as he went along. My west and Marlee Matalin. She went on to be the youngest actor. She currently appears on "Switch at birth". Thank you so much. Both of you for being here.

Matlin: Thank you for having us.

Tapper: What was your reaction when you saw this man signing at the memorial?

Matlin: In fact, when I first saw it, and for the very first time I saw it at home. I thought there's an interpreter there. I was happy for the fact because it is great for the world and people in South Africa to be able to watch and participate through the benefit of having a sign language interpreter so they wonderful miss anything. So they can participate and they can celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. And then I looked at him a little bit longer and I kept thinking, this is hard. I've been to south africa before and i could understand some South African sign language. I thought to myself, wait a minute. This isn't anything. It was almost like he was doing baseball signs or whatever they do,I was appalled. I was appalled. And I knew that at any moment, the entire world, whoever was watching, there would be so much noise. Would it create an explosion and it did.

Tapper: I want to play a clip from the memorial. Mandela's granddaughter reading part of a poem with the so-called fake interpreter. We've add subtitles of what she is actually saying.

Mandela grand daughter: You are lodged in our memories you tower over the world like a comet leaving streaks of life for us to follow.

Tapper: So knowing what she is saying and watching that, can you tell that he's faking it?

Matlin: You can tell. I can tell and I can tell that he is thinking to himself, oh, no, how should I do this? Well, let's see what i just did. I'll do it again.

One of the other signs is that he wasn't making any facial expressions. That's not normally how it is done, right? It is important for someone.

That is exactly a giveaway. Sign language involves, of all kinds. Let me emphasize is that sign language is not international. So each country has its own sign language. But in this case, each language shares something which is facial expressions as part of the grammar. To see someone standing there without any movement of his body. Without any facial expressions that one Incorporates into sign indicates that he has no understanding of the culture or the language. I knew right then and there that he was not authentic at all and it was offensive to me.

Tapper: Your show, "Switched at Birth" episode recently that was done entirely in sign language. It was called one of the best television episodes of 2013. That must be give you hope that there is growing awareness and appreciation of the challenges that deaf people face and also in embracing of that community.

Matlin: Absolutely. It has been a long time coming clearly when shows like what you just mentioned, switched at birth, in television history can broadcast an entire else without any sound. Maybe a little musical cues and focus entirely on the beauty of the language. This is something that everyone can see. And understand and appreciate that sign language is a legitimate language. It is part of deaf culture and now with a new generation coming into play, a lot of people want to learn sign language. They want to be able to talk with deaf people. And we've been oppressed for too long to have something like this Happen again. Push aside. Put into the corner. It is important that interpreters, we should understand that interpreters are part of our lives. We need them on create access to our lives to make advancements in the world. To be able to go to school. Interpreters need and are important parts of our lives. We need to put them in every part of our lives to interpret. Interpreters have a tough job and they are trained and they need to be certified they need to be able to work in environments such courts, such as in educational settings and that is why this situation is highlighting this.

Tapper: Thank you for interpreting. And I've been a fan of yours ever since "Children of a lesser God". Keep up the great work and thank you.

Filed under: International • Nelson Mandela • News
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Anne

    I am not deaf and do not know sign language, but even I could tell that this man wasn't signing. It would be a joke if
    it weren't so sad...........

    December 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Reply

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