Okezi Uwede-Meshack: On Perception and Interpretation

One of man’s greatest gifts is the one of sense. Growing up they said there were 5 senses and then somewhere around university, I got to hear of the 6th sense – intuition. Just the same way 5 – 8 (five minus eight) was a not possible equation in Primary School until we got introduced to Algebra. It somehow therefore seems that knowledge as we were taught was interpreted wrongly by our teachers but it was only necessary to aid our understanding at every level. Intuition is what helps you feel chemistry with that social media friend you are yet to meet and believe he or she would turn out so cool you might freeze on sight.

The major disadvantages of litigation are that it is tardy and adversarial in nature. I realized that sometimes, the reason for this delay is the understanding of the parties involved. English is the language of the court. Therefore, lawyers, witnesses, court clerks, the Honourable Judge, and everybody who has a business to conduct in court must do so in English language. It therefore becomes a problem when the accused, or the witness does not understand the language of the court like it happens a lot here.

Doing my law office and court attachments in Lagos, there were only a few cases of such interpretations and of course, most times, the Court Clerk would undertake to translate English to Yoruba and back to English for the Judge to record. In Ibadan however, the clerk does the interpretation into Yoruba for the witness and the Judge interprets to English in His records. What is funny is that with the different courts, the wordings of the Oath to be taken by the witness before giving his testimony changes. I was surprised when I heard “That everything I shall say before this Court shall be the truth and if I lie let the Lord Kill me” in the Yoruba language.

Section 206 of the Evidence Act 2011 provides that the following words be used: “You (full name) …. Are hereby cautioned that if you tell a lie in your testimony in this proceeding or wilfully mislead this court you are liable to be prosecuted and if found guilty you will be seriously dealt with according to law”. I think the difference between these two cautions is two far apart and interpreters should be cautious at the interpretations, as it may distort the understanding in the mind of the witness and change the answers to questions that can come from such person, ultimately clogging the wheels of justice.

For what it’s worth the testimony went well, with hitches of proper translation and the Judge having to read out the statement in the way he understood it and some slips of the lawyer asking question in Yoruba language. Cases had to be adjourned because the accuse persons were Hausa and none of the court assistants could speak Hausa. While it is a viable opportunity for language graduates to be employed by the courts, one cannot really tell how feasible that kind of venture is in terms of commercial value especially with the lack of proper database and information system as well as a misplaced political willed economy.

If the Court’s interpreter can be that brutal with interpretation, watch what I found on the streets: “DO NOT URINATE HERE” translated as “TO SI BI KO SOFO OMO” which means literally: “Urinate here and lose your Child”. It was a strong message to say that some things are better said in one language than the other as the urgency, truth or potency might be lost if rendered in the other language.

So whether it is your eye that reads those deep sinking words, your body that feels the striated sensation, your ear that hears the bad words, your tongue that tastes the bitter sweet pleasure or your nose that smells the fart, or even your 6th sense that tells you he is into you or that the day is not in your favor, you can be sure that while interpretation is based on perception, it is also largely influenced by the language you speak. That means that when the language spoken does not have an equivalent term in the context, then the idea is lost either heightened or lowered.

The right interpretations can help set the right tone for future outcomes, so strive to get the right understanding at all times.

Okezi Uwede-Meshack is a Lawyer presently working as a youth corper in Ibadan.

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