In our courtrooms, one thing that may easily attract the attention of linguists is the interpretation done by the interpreters. The “official” language in our courts is English but those witnesses or parties who do not understand or speak the English Language are allowed to use the courts through the aid of interpreters. This helps the court to conduct its processes by using interpreters to interpret any language at all, including foreign languages such as Chinese. In fact, it is quite interesting to hear Chinese interpreters in court.
The usual question posed to accused persons in court is whether or not they are guilty or not guilty.
So the question is “Are you guilty or not guilty?” The question is never “Are you guilty or victorious?” It is “guilty or not guilty”.
If the question is “guilty or not guilty”, the Twi interpretation cannot be rendered as “guilty or victorious”. But the Twi interpretation mostly heard in our courts is that.
The Twi interpreters usually say in Twi “Wo di f⊃ anaa wo di bim?”
“F⊃” means guilty and “bim” does not mean “not guilty”; it rather means “victorious”. So for effective interpretation in court during criminal proceedings, the Twi interpretation for “guilty or not guilty” should be “Wo di f⊃ anaa wo nni f⊃?”. This is the accurate interpretation to “Are you guilty or not guilty?”.
It is therefore observed, and rightly so, that the Twi interpretation of “guilty or not guilty” should and must be “wo di f⊃ anaa wo nni f⊃?”
The whole essence of a criminal proceeding is to establish the guilt or otherwise of the accused. It is not a civil action where a party may be declared as having won her suit. An accused person found not guilty is not necessarily victorious; she is simply not guilty. She is not awarded any damages or are any reliefs granted in her favour. It is with this in mind that the Twi interpretation should also focus on the guilt but not the victory of the accused person.
As to whether this misinterpretation impacts the criminal proceedings, we are not able to tell and we do not even think that it is fatal to criminal proceedings in our courts.
So wo di f⊃ anaa wo nni f⊃?
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