Language in the news

An Internet search for interpreter + conflict renders more results than one might expect, and in turn makes one wonder why such bounty should be unexpected these days. Here is a selection of what I found.

Portraits from Iraq

The New Yorker article Betrayed: The Iraqis who trusted America offers an in depth view of individuals whose world is defined by invisible walls closing in on them. "Othman had worked with a German group called Architects for People in Need, and then as a translator for foreign journalists. These were coveted jobs, but over time they had become so dangerous that Othman and Laith could talk candidly about their lives with no one except each other." If for no other reason, click on the link to check out the photograph accompanying the article.

You'll also find a sound file of the same author, George Packer, interviewing a former Iraqi interpreter: Working with the Americans: an Iraqi interpreter's story, from invasion to exile.


The Ottawa Citizen reports on the plight of locals working for NATO forces in Afghanistan: "The hundreds of interpreters attached to foreign troops may face the greatest risk, and several have already been killed in targeted attacks."

Vladimir Grigoryev served as an interpreter with Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. As part of a collection of articles about that conflict, the BBC offers us Moscow's Afghan war: The interpreter's story.


"One of the least-known stories of the American liberation of France, from 1944 to 1946, is also one of the ugliest and least understood chapters in the history of Jim Crow. The first man to grapple with this failure of justice was an eyewitness: the interpreter Louis Guilloux. Now, in The Interpreter, prize-winning author Alice Kaplan combines extraordinary research and brilliant writing to recover the story both as Guilloux first saw it, and as it still haunts us today." See Simon and Schuster for more.

You can listen to an interview with the author on NPR: "Author Alice Kaplan discusses her new book, which recounts the disproportionate number of black soldiers executed for capital crimes shortly after the liberation of France. The book is told through the eyes of a French interpreter."

Louis Guilloux examined the same period in his book OK, Joe. “Peut-être cette histoire vous rappelle-t-elle quelque chose. Si vous avez lu Louis Guilloux - pas seulement Le sang noir, publié chez Gallimard, mais la nouvelle intitulée O.K., Joe -, alors, vous y êtes.” (Le sang noir coule plus vite by Marc Riglet in LIRE).

You can read the first chapter of Alice Kaplan’s English rendition of OK, Joe on the University of Chicago Press website.

Speaking out

Speaking in Beijing, FIT President Peter W. Krawutschke said: "What is essential is that one day, interpreters benefit from the same standing as people who work for the Red Cross. When there is a conflict, it is assumed that a person who wears the Red Cross is neutral." Report by

The Union of Communication and Language Professionals (Denmark) has also issued a declaration "to draw the attention of the Danish society at large to the problem of assaults upon interpreters and translators in areas of conflict and to take the initiative of bringing the problem into an increased international focus."


The courts

The Spanish Diario La Rioja reports on the trial of those accused of perpetrating the 11 March 2004 bombing in Madrid : "Los traductores simultáneos del 11-M se sienten ‘orgullosos' de jugar un papel clave en el más importante proceso judicial contra el terrorismo islámico que se ha celebrado en el mundo. Pero prefieren que no se salga a la luz ni su nombre ni sus países de origen. ‘Ellos nos consideran unos traidores', explica uno de los seis intérpretes que participan en el juicio."

To what degree are court interpreters aware of their role? Researcher Juan Miguel Ortega Herraez is the first to study this matter in Spain: Interpreters play in trials more active roles than expected, on the Innovation Report website.

USA. The defendant doesn't speak or understand English. At first he is provided with a court-appointed interpreter, but later he is told that he will have to hire and pay his own. He appeals and it goes to the State Supreme Court. His lawyer argues: "An interpreter -- so key to fundamental due process -- is part of the basic apparatus of the courtroom in the same way that a court stenographer, as a bailiff, indeed as a judge is." The prosecution doesn't agree; the judges have questions. The Courier-Journal reports.

Is getting a fair trial simply a matter of laws being applied? Of words being understood? The Spanish-language site Ecoportal offers some insight in México: Indígenas: justicia en otro idioma.


Further Reading

St. Jerome Publishing says that Mona Baker's Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account "is particularly significant at this juncture of history, with the increased interest in the positioning of translators in politically sensitive contexts, the growing concern with translators' and interpreters' divided loyalties in settings such as Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and a host of other arenas of conflict, and the emergence of several activist communities of translators and interpreters."


Rodopi Publishers on Translating and Interpreting Conflict, Edited by Myriam Salama-Carr: "The theoretical reflection which the essays generate regarding mediation and neutrality, ethical involvement and responsibility, and the implications for translator and interpreter training, will be of interest to researchers in translation, interpreting, media, intercultural and postcolonial studies."

Recommended citation format:
Luigi LUCCARELLI. "Language in the news". June 12, 2007. Accessed August 17, 2019. <>.