ONTD Political

Mandela memorial interpreter asks forgiveness, calls himself champion

9:35 am - 12/12/2013
(CNN) -- [Breaking news update 8:23 a.m.]

The sign language interpreter widely ridiculed for his performance at the Nelson Mandela memorial spoke Wednesday with CNN's David McKenzie. "For the deaf association, if they think that I've done a wrong interpretation, I ask forgiveness," Thamsanqa Jantjie said. But he said he has long been "a champion of what I've been doing." He also said he is schizophrenic.

[Previous story published 8:03 a.m.]

The sign language interpreter widely ridiculed for his performance at the Nelson Mandela memorial stands by his work.

Thamsanqa Jantjie told CNN affiliate Radio 702 in Johannesburg that he is a fully qualified interpreter and has been trusted in the past with other big events.

"I've interpreted in many press conferences, including the presidential conference," he said. "There was no one at all that said I interpreted wrong."

Not so, says the head of the South Africa Translators' Institute.

There were complaints last year after Jantjie interpreted the proceedings at the ruling African National Congress elective conference, the institute's chairman Johan Blaauw told the South African Press Association.

"If I was not interpreting right, why was it was not picked up at that time?" Jantjie said. "You must remember, you are talking about an interpreter who has been interpreting through these years. And if I was interpreting wrong through these years, why should it become an issue now? It's one of the questions I've never ever gotten an answer for."

The radio station interviewer asked Jantjie to comment on media reports that he was hearing voices in his head and hallucinating during the Mandela event Tuesday.

Pressed twice, Jantjie reluctantly acknowledged that he was a "patient receiving a treatment in schizophrenia."

At a news conference Wednesday, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, South Africa's deputy minister of women, children and people with disabilities, admitted that mistakes had happened during the memorial but added that Jantjie was not a "fake."

She said there was no sign language standard in South Africa and deaf people spoke different dialects.

Questions grow

Bogopane-Zulu also said the government tracked down the company Jantjie worked for, but the owners "seemed to have vanished."

"They have obviously been providing substandard service for years," she said.

Jantjie told Talk Radio 702 that he was hired by a company called SA Interpreters, which was hired by the ANC. He also said he's formally qualified as an interpreter and that his qualifications are filed with the company.

"I think that I've been a champion of sign language," he said.

As outrage over his interpretation skills have grown, so have questions about who hired him.

A spokesman for the ANC said the party had not hired him for the Mandela event.

"We have used him on some occasions. But yesterday was not an ANC event. So we cannot answer for yesterday," spokesman Jackson Mthembu said Wednesday.

The South African government was investigating the reports, said Collins Chabane, minister for performance monitoring and evaluation in the presidency.

'Fake interpreter'

The national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa sees it differently. He called Jantjie a "fake interpreter."

"The deaf community is in outrage," said Bruno Druchen. "He is not known by the Deaf Community in South Africa nor by the South African Sign Language interpreters working in the field."

The man showed no facial expressions, which are key in South African sign language, and his hand signals were meaningless, Druchen said. "It is a total mockery of the language," he added.

The service to commemorate Mandela, who died last week at 95, was broadcast to millions of viewers.

While dignitaries addressed the crowd at Johannesburg's FNB stadium, Jantjie produced a series of hand signals that experts said meant nothing.

"It was almost like he was doing baseball signs," deaf actress Marlee Matlin told CNN on Wednesday, through a sign language interpreter. "I was appalled."

Though each country has its own sign language, all of them entail facial expressions, she said. She called his lack of facial expression "a giveaway."

"I knew exactly right then and there that he wasn't authentic at all, and it was offensive; it was offensive to me."

Source knows the sign for bullshit.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 03:08 pm (UTC)
On the news this morning, they talked about this interpreter and one of the things they mentioned was that he was being treated for schizophrenia. They also showed some of the late night talk shows mocking him including one which had a real deaf interpreter reading what Jantjie was signing. Listening to that, my first thought was that it sounded like what is called word salad, a symptom that occurs with some schizophrenics. Also, the lack of expression fits in with schizophrenia - there's often a flattened affect of emotions. I'm wondering if the pressure of signing at the event triggered something with his mental illness. If so, maybe we should have more compassion than contempt.

Edited at 2013-12-12 03:15 pm (UTC)
chaya 12th-Dec-2013 03:19 pm (UTC)
Word salad involves words, though.
teacoat 12th-Dec-2013 03:39 pm (UTC)
Do you think sign languages don't have words?
chaya 12th-Dec-2013 03:44 pm (UTC)
Of course it does. And people have clearly said he wasn't signing any words.
teacoat 12th-Dec-2013 03:52 pm (UTC)
Ah, gotcha. I totally misinterpreted your original comment.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 03:40 pm (UTC)
Sign language is language. Words. It's stored in the same part of the brain that other languages are stored. I think we just aren't used to seeing word salad in sign language.

Edited at 2013-12-12 03:41 pm (UTC)
chaya 12th-Dec-2013 03:47 pm (UTC)
his hand signals were meaningless, Druchen said

He wasn't signing words that didn't belong together. He was making meaningless gestures.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 03:55 pm (UTC)
Actually, he was signing words. "They also showed some of the late night talk shows mocking him including one which had a real deaf interpreter reading what Jantjie was signing." The deaf interpreter on the talk show was reading words in his gestures. After the first sentence, they were just a jumble of words making no sense. But that man was able to read them as words.
chaya 12th-Dec-2013 03:58 pm (UTC)
I'd be interested to see that, considering other people were saying the signs didn't resemble words.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
Something to consider is that sign language isn't universal. American Sign Language is jut that: American. And even in that, there are dialects. All I can say from my point of view is that the first few gestures were recognizable to me as sign language - but I took a basic sign language course many years ago and have forgotten most of it, so that's all I can say about it. I would think that he must have had some credentials to be tapped for something as important as this memorial.
chaya 12th-Dec-2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
American Sign Language is jut that: American.

I'm confused, what does that have to do with anything?

>"It was almost like he was doing baseball signs," deaf actress Marlee Matlin told CNN on Wednesday, through a sign language interpreter. "I was appalled."

Though each country has its own sign language, all of them entail facial expressions, she said. She called his lack of facial expression "a giveaway."
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 04:52 pm (UTC)
I'm not trying to belabor a point, I was just suggesting that he might have been using a different sign language than ASL so it wouldn't make sense if you only know ASL. Possibly. Also, I mentioned that facial expressions are part of it, but schizophrenics sometimes have flat expressions.

Of course, he could have just been making nonsense gestures. I don't know.

Edited at 2013-12-12 04:52 pm (UTC)
otana 12th-Dec-2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
But you're assuming the people discussing this only know ASL.

From what I've read there are many dialects of South African sign language, but one would think that for Mandela's memorial -- a huge international event -- the interpreter would use the most widely recognized dialect ensuring that the greatest number of people would be able to understand it possible. The idea that all these people just don't understand the separate words because they don't know what version of sign language he's using is really reaching a bit.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
You're right, I was assuming that the critics only know ASL - because the only only people I heard discussing the interpreter were American. At this point, I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge my mistake. From what you linked below, it sounds like a lot of the fault lies with a less than reputable company that provided the interpreter.
gambitia 12th-Dec-2013 05:38 pm (UTC)
From the reports I read, what he was signing was nonsensical--not even random words--in both ASL and South African Sign Language. Do you know what report was saying he was signing words?
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
I was watching the news this morning, but the clip with the interpreter was from one of the late night talk shows. The interpreter was getting words from it but the didn't relate to each other except for the first hello and welcome. My impression was that the second interpreter was an actual sign language interpreter.

Of course, Jantjie could really have just been making random gestures. I'm not ruling that out at all. It's also possible that nerves and mental illness may have impaired him such that he was just making nonsense gestures. It's all just speculation.
lovedforaday 12th-Dec-2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
but people have complained about his gibberish signing before the memorial. despite his issues, he should have never been invited to sign when people have complained before that he wasn't signing anything.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 11:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah, otana has a link to an article below. It sounds like the company that provided the interpreter was kinda shady. The man does have mental illness. I was just trying to be fair to the man.
teaoli 13th-Dec-2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
I also saw a news report where a SASL-speaking Deaf man said that some of what Jantjie signed were actually words. The reporter said that he asked if one of the speeches was about rocking horses because one of the signs in the jumble was "rocking horse".
otana 12th-Dec-2013 10:11 pm (UTC)
A medical expert with University College London cautioned that Jantjie's unusual sign language didn't look like it was caused by schizophrenia or another psychosis.

"The disruption of sign language in people with schizophrenia takes many forms but this does not look like anything I have seen in signers with psychosis," said Jo Atkinson, who is a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Center for Deafness, Cognition and Language.

He added: "There were many features of [his] signing that do not chime with the typical presentation of disordered signing caused by a psychotic episode."

From here. I don't know sign language and have no experience with understanding schizophrenia symptoms so I don't know for sure how much this expert's view counts, but this whole thing sounds incredibly fishy. Especially considering he's apparently been hired before and criticized for his signing.
nitasee 12th-Dec-2013 10:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link to that article. I read the entire thing. I would certainly defer to a clinical psychologist with experience on deafness. It sounds like he is schizophrenic but functional with care. He may have been experiencing an episode during the memorial.

As for the signing...the company that hired him sounds fishy. Did they even verify his skills? I would think a legitimate company would want credentials verifying training and test the applicant's skills. Sounds like the guy was in over his head?
otana 12th-Dec-2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
The company sounds really fishy, and that's before they up and left their offices after the memorial. I'm honestly just amazed he was hired all things considered; he sounds grossly underqualified and you'd think for such a huge event they'd want the best they could find?
kagehikario 13th-Dec-2013 01:41 am (UTC)
I think it's terribly unfortunate that his mental illness is being blamed for this- word salad is terribly uncommon in my experience with a modern population in treatment- it's a severe and advanced syndrome. I fear this turning into a case that invalidates the abilities of people living with schizophrenia, who already have a tough enough time finding work and keeping up education and activities because of negative expectations and stigma
nitasee 13th-Dec-2013 05:39 pm (UTC)
Even though I'm the one who brought it up, I agree with you: I wouldn't want this case to make life harder for people with schizophrenia. I know just the word "schizophrenia" conjures up images of "crazy street people" or mass shooters, but that is rarely the case. I am very sympathetic to those who suffer with the disease.
oldruggedspork 13th-Dec-2013 07:30 pm (UTC)
I am sympathetic too, and I suppose it is possible that this man had some bad intentions and wanted to get attention or cause confusion for some reason.

But I think schizophrenia can be pretty unpredictable and he could have had some sort of problem that triggered off a bout of more severe symptoms than usual. Even the medication could have had something to do with it, or that might be possible.

I was just reading an article in Sunday's paper that said that recent research suggests that infections or problems with the body's immune system seem to have some correlation with schizophrenic episodes.

It could be that this man was very affected by the death of a personal hero, he could have contracted some type of infection, he could have suffered a bad encounter with the crowd, and or had a private encounter with someone that was violent or threatening. Or a combination or all of the above.

Also schizophrenics can be swayed sometimes to go against their own good judgement, it is one of the weaknesses the disease causes. Where I live there was a schizophrenic man who shot a man who ran a homeless shelter. The shelter director had quite a few enemies and it has been speculated that someone may have talked the gunman into it, they could have told him lies and played with his emotions.

(Also I thought ASL was not specific to the English language, was mostly taken from the common sign language of American natives who used it long before the coming of Europeans to the contintents. I don't know that I have time to research that, but it is what I had heard. There may have developed different usages or new gestures all over the world.)

Edited at 2013-12-13 07:30 pm (UTC)
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