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  • Sandeep Prasanna 12:30 pm on January 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: affirmation, bible, britain, christianity, court, france, i swear to tell the truth, , islam, justice, , , , religion, sharia, swear   

    I swear (affirm?) that I will tell the truth 

    I was watching a Kannada soap opera last night (because I have apparently become an elderly Indian woman as of late) and a scene in a courtroom caught my attention. One of the characters was being questioned, and before she gave her testimony she was asked to declare her intention to speak the truth.

    ಸತ್ಯವನ್ನು ಹೇಳುತ್ತೇನೆ , ಸತ್ಯವನಲ್ಲದೆ ಬೇರೆ ಏನು ಹೇಳುವುದಿಲ್ಲ , ನಾ ಹೇಳುವುದೆಲ್ಲ ಸತ್ಯ |

    satyavannu hēḷuttēne, satyavanallade bērēnu hēḷuvudilla, nānu hēḷuvudella satya

    I will speak the truth; I will not speak anything that isn’t true; everything I say is the truth.

    That segment caught my attention for a couple of reasons.

    First, that the declaration was different from our familiar U.S. oath, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

    But of course it wouldn’t be the same. While an objectively large number of people in India use English as a second or third language (some 125 million according to the latest census, nearly half the population of the United States), that still only comes out to about 10 or 11 percent of the country’s population.

    It would be fundamentally unjust for court proceedings to be carried out in a language with which the parties were unfamiliar — even though that probably happens regularly, since there are only (!) 22 scheduled languages of India and hundreds more unrecognized dialects and minority languages.

    So, okay, the witness’s declaration was taken in Kannada. The action takes place in the state of Karnataka, where the two official languages are Kannada and English, so a witness could plausibly use either language. That makes sense. (Plus, it was a Kannada soap.)

    Another thing that caught my attention was that there was no religious sentiment expressed in the declaration. India is a highly religious country, with upwards of three-fourths of the country declaring that religion is important to them. In the U.S., that rate is a little lower, at 65%, but the most famous form of our witness declaration here does explicitly invoke God — “… so help me God,” a line that is usually delivered, scripted, by court bailiffs, along with a Bible.

    In American law, an oath specifically references God. The OED agrees: an oath is specifically a type of declaration that “invokes God, a god, or other object of reverence.” Those who don’t want to make an oath instead provide an “affirmation,” which starts with “I affirm…” instead of “I swear…” and omits the reference to God. Affirming is referenced four times in the U.S. Constitution as an alternative to swearing, and Britain has allowed affirmations instead of swearing since 1695.

    Regardless of whether you swear or affirm, if you lie, you can be charged with perjury, a serious crime.

    President Obama

    Other declarations abroad

    In Britain, oaths are given slightly differently from the American version:

    I swear by [Almighty God/Name of God/name of the holy scripture] that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    Affirmations in Britain require several more hedges than an oath, perhaps because of a cultural suspicion against people who affirm rather than swear: “I swear to tell the truth…” is such a well-known phrase that any deviance from that — regardless of how legal it is — can be regarded with suspicion.

    In Britain, one doesn’t simply “affirm” — one solemnly and sincerely and truly declares and affirms:

    I do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    In the U.S., one can simply affirm. Atheist and former Governor of California Culbert Olson, in office from 1939 to 1943, famously said to California Supreme Court Justice Waste, “God [can’t] help me at all, and there isn’t any such person.” He chose to say “I will affirm,” rather than “I swear” during his oath of office.

    According to one of my friends in France (hi, Benoît!), the common declaration given by witnesses in France is:

    Je jure de parler sans haine et sans crainte, de dire toute la vérité, rien que la vérité.

    I swear to speak without anger and without fear, to say the entire truth, nothing but the truth.

    My friend writes, “Because France is a non-religious country, there isn’t any trace of God in any institutions.” I’m sure truth is more nuanced than that, but the French people are certainly less religious than the United States. But the word — jurer — used in the oath is similar to “swear.” Jurer usually carries the same valence as the English “swear” (in that it has religious undertones) and it also has the same secondary meaning of “to curse.” But jurer can also translate to “certify” or “pledge,” words that carry no religious undertones in English.

    Another one of my friends, a walking encyclopedia of Islam (hi, Ahmad!), gave me an overview of Muslim declarations of truthfulness. In many majority-Muslim countries, cases that are tried under Shari’ah law (today, usually family law disputes) require an oath to be given by witnesses. However, unlike Western civil courts, the oath is traditionally given after testimony is given. Once the judge collects all the testimony, he asks the parties to swear on the Qur’an or by God that what they have said is true, or else bringing upon them divine wrath. (Incidentally, this traditional oath appeared in the recent Golden Globe-winning Iranian film A Separation, which I highly recommend.)

    Back home

    The U.S. government is explicitly areligious, but a profession of faith is built directly into the common understanding of court procedure. Of course, there’s no law requiring nonbelievers to swear. But it’s undeniably unfair when free deviance from a set religious phrase, scripted and delivered by a court’s bailiff, could color a jury or judge’s perception of a witness. We shouldn’t be suspicious of someone who affirms more than someone who swears, but many of us are.

    Eliminating “I swear…” probably won’t help, but maybe raising the profile of “I affirm…” as an option for nonbelievers (and even believers who object to swearing in a civil setting) will help make the process fairer.

     
    • Dani 9:45 am on January 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      As a nonbeliever, I feel it is far more meaningful to affirm than to swear to an entity in which I do not believe.

      And how is our oath not a violation of separation of church and state?

      • Sandeep Prasanna 1:59 am on February 1, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        The text of the oath isn’t statutory, as far as I know. It’s only customary. There’s only a requirement that one swears or affirms.

    • Benoit 8:06 pm on January 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Sandeeep!

      Actually, I was not really clear in my quick translation and explanation of the French sence of Justice. So I’ve taken few minutes to think about this topic.
      I do think there is a huge separation between Justice and Religion in France. I guess the Revolution and, maybe deeper with the secular laws under the 3rd republic (1870-1940), the religion was put out of the State and the Justice.

      The French Justice oath are :

      the witness’s one: ” as I said « Je jure de parler sans haine et sans crainte, de dire toute la vérité, rien que la vérité. » which means “I swear to speak without fear and anger and to say all the truth, just the truth”
      the jurys’s one: uses as well the « je le jure. », so “I do swear”.

      But it’s pretty hard to say there is a religious connotations in those two French words. I’ve look around and I’ve realised the word “jurer”, came from the latin “juro, jurare” which means “to take oath” in the law and political sphere, this verb was mostly used toward the emperor/leader more than a religious reference.
      The French Dictionnary I have say “Jurer” (to swear) is actually the verb describing the action of taking an oath, using something or someone as a witness. The dictionnary underlines the fact this person/thing could be a god, a friend, a princip, etc. I guess in the case of the Law Court; witnesses take oath in front of this principle.
      The Dictionnary mentions many other sence of this verb: a religious one “jurer le nom de Dieu” as a blasphemy. ; “jurer” as “saying insults” ; wiktionnary gives nine different interpretation of this verb.

      This topic made me eager to look a little bit deeper in the way France has dvp a very strict seperation between religious principles and Justice.
      http://www.conseil-etat.fr/fr/discours-et-interventions/justice-et-religion-regards-croises-sur-les-systemes-juridiques-francais.html
      in the Cours d’Etat website (the Higher Administrative French Court), I’ve found this résumé of a common UK-Irlande and French conference about links between Religion and Justice. It is said that we could not compare “secularism” (which is, according to Errera an absence of religious reference in the public activities) and “the separation between the State and the Religion” (no organic links between the State and the religious authorities)
      It’s said the US are in the situation where there is a clear separation but no “secularism” in the French sence of “laïcité”, because of the presence of those references in the US State.
      The author said France in the only county (among those 3) using the notion of “laïcité” , placing it in the core of the French Constitution, and applying it in Justice.

      The Law History said the influence of God in Justice ceased with the French Revolution, then with the Napoleanian Code, (which gave us the “Code Civil” we used today -we did renewed it, hum-, and the 3rd repulic as I said which affirmed the “laïcité” principles with differents laws 1901-1905. (But it’s still hard to say precisly when this influence really starts and stopped)

      To conclude about your soap 😉 , I’ve read the part of India which was under the French Influence at the Napoleonian Time : the “French India” , which was mostly composed of portuary towns. So, these town were under the influence of the “Code Civil” of Napoleon since a law of the end of the19th century (this code was secular, and we still use it today), it can explain why the French oath could be closed to the one you’ve seen in your soap.
      By the way Wikipedia says Pondichéry still have a very distinct justice code, close to the French Napoleonian one.
      http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droit_en_Inde#La_sp.C3.A9cificit.C3.A9_fran.C3.A7aise

      • Sandeep Prasanna 2:15 am on January 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        Wow Benoit, thanks so much for taking the time to write such a detailed response. And thanks for clarifying the French use of “jurer” — it’s interesting to compare how both countries incorporate religion (or don’t) into the law.

    • Martijn Coppoolse 3:18 pm on February 8, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I think Benoît means “Because France is has a very strict separation of state and religion”. That doesn’t mean there are no religious people in France, just that there’s no reference to God or church in legal documents or official events and procedures.
      (Last year, when watching a remembrance service in the UK, it suddenly struck me that there were both military and clerical officers present. In France, you’ll never see a priest officing at a military event, nor a military in official function in a church).

  • The Diacritics 4:03 am on August 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , france, international, italy, sandeep, sports   

    Smack talking on the field 

    posted by Sandeep

    Duke’s men’s basketball team is currently on a tour of China, visiting Duke’s upcoming campus in Kunshan and playing a few matches with the Chinese national basketball team and others. Georgetown’s team is doing the same–on a “goodwill tour” of the country–but on Thursday, the Bayi Rockets and Georgetown got into a violent brawl, cutting the game short and forcing Georgetown to leave the stadium before anyone got seriously hurt. My friend Ben suggested that the language barrier between the Americans and Chinese could have lowered the tolerance for cooperation between the two groups.

    According to the Washington Post,

    “Immediately before the fighting began, Bayi forward-center Hu Ke was called for a foul against Georgetown’s Jason Clark. The senior guard took exception to the hard foul and said so to Hu, triggering pushing and shoving between them. At that point, players from the Georgetown and Bayi benches ran onto the court, and bedlam ensued.”

    Was it really the actual content of what Clark said to Hu that triggered the conflict? While it’s possible that Hu understood Clark–many Chinese people know at least basic English–maybe he was reacting to his tone and body language. And I’m willing to bet that few, if any, of the Georgetown players understand Chinese. Of course, a language barrier doesn’t really matter when someone is screaming and pummeling you in the chest. There’s no reasoned understanding of each other in those situations:

    I wonder if there are statistics on violence in international sports, and whether those can be correlated to histories of cultural or linguistic conflict.

    The Georgetown-Bayi brawl reminded me of another famous fight: Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutting of Marco Materazzi at the soccer World Cup in 2006. There, Zidane was allegedly responding to Materazzi’s taunts about his mother or sister (accounts vary). The BBC hired an Italian lip-reader to decode what Materazzi had said, and they seemed to find that Materazzi had indeed insulted Zidane and his family, in Italian. But Zidane is French, of Algerian origin, and there’s nothing in his biography or background that would indicate that he understands Italian.

    So what was he reacting to? The tone of Materazzi’s taunts? His body language? Or maybe he picked out a few words and just inferred the rest?

    The idea behind sports teams’ goodwill tours is to beget cross-cultural understanding without language. That’s the whole idea behind international events like the Olympics and the World Cup. We don’t all speak the same language, but we play many of the same games.

    So what happens when language does enter the mix? I can imagine a lot of situations in which language learners completely misunderstand the intentions of someone else because they can only pick out a few (unfortunate) words. Materazzi was clearly provoking Zidane, and body language and tone are generally good indicators of meaning. But I wonder if beginner language learners expose themselves to as much conflict as they do friendship, especially in heated, tense situations like sports.

    International athletic events ride on national glory as well as personal glory. Our linguistic identities are closely tied to our national loyalties. Hearing an opposing player’s smack talk, in a foreign tongue, in a foreign location, in a situation where we’re already tense and on edge, might just make us angry in unexpected ways.

    So does this mean international cooperation is doomed? No–I’m skeptical of the value of international athletic competitions as they relate to “cross-cultural understanding” because of the fundamental problem of trying to foster friendship in an inherently hostile environment. That doesn’t mean they’re not fun to watch. I’m just hesitant to find any broader linguistic or cultural conflict in a mid-game brawl at a basketball match (as some news commentators are doing now). A couple of Chinese athletes can “otherize” their American opponents based on their appearance and language without actually thinking about the broader implications (the budding U.S.-China rivalry?) of their conflict.

     
    • Morgan 10:47 pm on May 11, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      “But Zidane is French, of Algerian origin, and there’s nothing in his biography or background that would indicate that he understands Italian.”

      Zidane played professionally in Italy for five years (1996-2001), so he actually does probably understand Italian.

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