A man believed to be the sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service is reportedly a “fake.” Bruno Druchen, national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, released a statement claiming the as-yet-unidentified man, seen next to U.S. President Barack Obama and other dignitaries at the massive Tuesday event in the Soweto FNB stadium, is not a recognized South African Sign Language Interpreter.
Druchen, in the statement posted on Facebook, describes the various errors made by the “fake interpreter” and claims the man is not known in the deaf community of South Africa. According to Druchen, “To the best of our knowledge, he has not undergone any formal training in South African Sign Language or Interpreting offered by any recognized institution that offers these training courses.”
The statement details various grammatical errors (like any other language, sign language has a grammatical system) made by the interpreter, including his lack of facial expressions during the interpretation at the memorial gathering for the iconic anti-apartheid leader. Druchen said facial expressions are important as they help convey the emotion and meaning of what is being signed. “Facial expressions are an example of a set of behaviors called 'nonmanual markers.' Nonmanual markers include facial expressions, head tilt, head nod, head shake, shoulder raising, mouth morphemes, and other non-signed signals that influence the meaning of your signs,” said Druchen. "Sign language goes beyond just using one’s hands and must include body language to provide the most accurate meaning of the sign."
Perhaps the most glaring error was the fabricated nature of the signs -- they were made up, carried no meaning and are not used in South African sign language, said Druchen, called them “a total mockery of the language.”
According to Druchen, there are established signs that represent South Africa, its current president Jacob Zuma, and its former President Thabo Mbeki, and the interpreter did not use any of them.
Several Facebook comments confirmed Druchen’s statement. The individual has yet to be identified, and it is unclear how the man received credentials for the event. According to the Associated Press, the South African government is planning to make an official response.
A video of the sign language interpreter during Mandela’s ceremony, courtesy of the Telegraph, can be viewed below.