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Title: “Meaning rests in people not in words”: Linguistic and cultural challenges in a diverse South African legal system
Authors: Ralarala, Monwabisi K 
Keywords: Language in court;Comprehension;Translation;Language and culture
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Van Schaik
Abstract: In the South African criminal justice system, there seems to be no understanding of the significance of the interface between language and the law and its implications for social justice. Yet, this important aspect has repeatedly proved to be quite fundamental in the administration of justice, particularly in handling of cases that involve speakers of African languages whose English, and to some extent, Afrikaans proficiency is low or non-existent. Eades (1986:215) correctly points out that, “[i]t is becoming increasingly obvious that [accesses] to justice [is] partly a linguistic issue”. Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that speakers of African languages hail from backgrounds with a rich and cultural heritage; and this human peculiarity or uniqueness involves a somewhat different structure of thinking from that of the native speakers of other languages. Stroud (2010:2) makes a similar observation by pointing out that “ [c]ultural and language heritage remains embedded in their discourse, with variations in politeness, taboo, terminology used for specific occasions and different words to speak to people in different relationship”. Arguably, cultural variability is not considered at all in our criminal justice system (Kaschula & Ralarala 2004:254). This paper will, firstly, show that the South African criminal justice system operates by a different set of rules, which is not quite compatible with the (language) conventions and heritage of an African language speaker. Secondly, it will demonstrate that cultural practices are difficult to represent in a linguistically equivalent manner in different languages; and thirdly, it will reveal that certain court judgments are decided on the basis of cultural misunderstanding.
ISBN: 9780627031137
Appears in Collections:Edu - Books / Book Chapters

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