I spent all last weekend at a Language and the Law conference which was held at the NT Supreme Court. It wouldn’t have been my first choice for weekend recreational activities (I was there for work), but nonetheless I found parts of it very interesting.

The main focus of the conference was exploring ways to make the legal system more just and accessible for speakers of languages other than English. We heard a lot of input from academics about how messed up legal English is, even for people who speak English natively. But more importantly we flew in about forty Aboriginal language interpreters from all over the Northern Territory to have their say on issues affecting them as language practitioners in remote areas. There were a bunch of speakers of migrant languages there as well.

It seems really boring (probably because it is) but if you could get through all the really long-winded talking, it was actually a chance to make a very real difference to the way the courts operate. It was a great chance to actually, and indeed literally, stand up and speak against injustice, with an audience full of people with the authority to do something about it.

The most interesting bit by far (although I may be biased here, having had a fair bit to do with the production of said bit) was a “roles reversed role play” which we put on for the afternoon of the second day. A troupe of our Yolngu Matha interpreters learned a script, and then got dressed up in robes and wigs a la Supreme Court. The team put on a mock court hearing, with one of the local Supreme Court Justices acting as defendant.

The whole hearing was run in Yolngu Matha, with both the defendant and the audience completely reliant on the interpreter to understand what was happening. It was a huge hit with the conference delegates and was a very powerful spectacle to watch, as English speakers, who are so used to having the run of things in this country, found themselves on the other side of the language barrier.

For the record, the defendant was found guilty of disrupting a ceremony and was sentenced to two years banishment from Arnhem Land and five years of having his name changed to Mudskipper Face.

Make of that what you will.



Garry with 2 Rs

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