Deaf Actress Marlee Matlin Slams Mandela Interpreter Fiasco (Video)

Friday, 13 Dec 2013 08:30 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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Marlee Matlin, the Academy Award-winning deaf actress, was appalled and offended by the sign language interpreter who claimed he was suffering schizophrenic hallucinations Tuesday when he signed gibberish throughout Nelson Mandela's memorial service.

Matlin, 48, appeared on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" Wednesday and said through an interpreter that she knew as soon as she started watching the coverage of the memorial service that Thamsanqa Jantjie had no idea what he was doing.

"I've been to South Africa before and I can understand some of the South African sign language. But I thought to myself, 'Wait a minute. This isn't anything,'" she said. "It was almost like he was doing baseball signs. I was appalled. I knew that at any moment, the entire world, whoever was watching, there would be so much noise it would create an explosion. And it did."

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Jantjie, a sign language interpreter employed by SA Interpreters, told reporters that he began hearing loud voices in his head during the service that drowned out the voices of the speakers he was interpreting. He said he lost his concentration and that's why he was signing nonsensically.

But in a separate interview with CNN this week, Jantjie said he stood by his performance.

"It has been many years I have been doing this job," he said. "My portfolio shows that I have been a champion of what I have been doing… I have never in my life had anything that said I have interpreted wrong.

"For the deaf association, if they think that I have done a wrong interpretation, I ask forgiveness. But for deaf South Africans, if you will tell me that I was doing wrong interpretation, then they should answer me why they were silent all the time."

This isn’t the first time people have complained about Jantjie's interpretation. He reportedly drew criticism last year after translating for South African President Jacob Zuma.

Matlin said the worst part of Jantjie's performance was his lack of facial expressions and repetitive motions.

"Sign language is not international… but in this case each language shares something, which is facial expressions as part of the grammar," she said. "To see someone standing there without any sort of movement of his body, without any sort of facial expressions that one incorporates into sign, indicates that he has no understanding of the culture, no understanding of the language. I knew exactly right then and there that he wasn't authentic at all. And it was offensive. It was offensive to me."

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