Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Translating in a time of war - call for blue beret linguists in Iraq in translation

A friend at work gave me a fascinating article from this month's Vie Protestante. It's an interview with Mathieu Guidère about his book Irak in translation: de l'art de perdre une guerre sans connaître la langue de son adversaire.

Guidère has worked both at the French military academy of Saint-Cyr and at the Pentagon looking at the role of translators and interpreters in conflict zones.

He has some interesting things to say about the war in Iraq being one which set out to win hearts and minds and was also one in which translators and interpreters played an important role.

Later in the interview he says that "translating in a time of war is about the art of using words of dialogue, diffusing situations which are filled with tension, using communication in a way which helps conflict resolution."

The interviewer asks outright whether the war might have been won if Bush had been able to use more translators and interpreters and Guidère's reply is very interesting:

"It not so much the quantity of as the quality which was the problem in this war. Taxi drivers or pizza delivery delivery people were recruited so long as they had three words of Arabic. The people recruited were both badly trained and badly managed"

It's not always easy to argue for quality in translation and I'm not sure I want to use potentially winning wars as one of the arguments. He ends the interview by saying that there needs to be a specially trained section of blue beret linguists at the UN. An interesting idea!
Guidère teaches at the University of Geneva's Ecole de Traduction et Interprétation.