n Language Matters : Studies in the Languages of Southern Africa - Language and the law in Malawi : a case for the use of indigenous languages in the legal system

Volume 32, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0256-5986



In Malawi's legal system English is used as the language of legal proceedings and records. In cases where the plaintiffs / defendants do not speak English interpreters are provided. However, there are two factors which militate against this state of affairs. First, Malawi is a highly non-literate country with an estimated non-literacy rate of 48%. Second, English is not the vehicle of communication for the majority of the Malawian population. In the light of these facts, the paper argues that the legal system should make use of indigenous languages; not only will this facilitate communication but also eliminate the need for court interpreters. It will also give the feuding parties the confidence that they are not being misrepresented. Since communication is only successful when the receiver can interpret the information the source has put in the message, there is need, therefore, to render the law into the languages(s) that is / are familiar to the receiver. This will save citizens from being poorly defended, misjudged and unjustly condemned.

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