Our new contributor Monica debuted yesterday with something on drunk driving and I posted this morning on plagiarism. Let's get back to linguistics, if not yet to happier subject matter: The news has been filled recently with one of those stories of outrage at the judicial system: A young man accused of raping a child was freed after a judge ruled that he'd been denied a speedy trial because of the failure to find an interpreter for his native language, Vai. (It's a Mandé language of West Africa —Liberia and Sierra Leone, spoken by something like 100,000 people, according to various sources.)
There are various issues here, including how badly he needed an interpreter: He apparently was enrolled in ordinary classes (not ESL) in high school and gave an interview in English to a reporter. But whatever the facts, the coverage is pretty flawed … A TV report I caught part of earlier today raised the question of how difficult it was to get an interpreter, going for a kind of gotcha moment: They interviewed a man who speaks Vai and asked him if he'd be willing to serve. He said more or less "yes, of course". This creates the impression that anybody with good basic knowledge of two languages is competent to serve as an interpreter in court. Not so, of course.
I hope that Roger Shuy at Language Log or somebody else who understands issues of language and the judicial system will give some expert commentary here.