The Benefits of Multilingualism for Statutory and Constitutional Interpretation in South Africa

Lourens Marthinus Du Plessis


Taking the South African experience as an example, this article considers the interpretive benefits to be reaped from having access to bi- and multilingual versions of a statutory text. The discussion takes place against the backdrop of a history of statutory bi- and multilingualism in the said jurisdiction as well as, at present, constitutional guarantees of language rights and the “parity of esteem” of eleven official languages. It is argued that, if invoked with due discretion and in a non-rigid way, statutory multilingualism can be a boon to statutory and constitutional interpretation. The South African courts – whose traditional approach to statutory inter-pretation has tended to be literalist, formalistic and formulaic – are, generally speaking, to be commended for their supple use of bilingualism as an aid to interpretation over the years. The advent of constitutional multilingualism and the (potential) availability of statutory texts (and the Constitution) in more than two languages, have moreover created conditions conducive to the further development and refinement of reliance on multilingualism in statutory and constitutional interpretation – certain challenges notwithstanding.

Cite as: Du Plessis, JLL 1 (2012), 76–86, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2012.076

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2012 Lourens Du Plessis

License URL: