Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters



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Wars, languages and the role(s) of interpreters

specialised in languages may bring with it a reversion of hierarchy (including that of age, gender and social class. Sonnenfeldt gave up his blue-collar duties in the truck pool to rub shoulders with generals and officers, with whom he was soon on first-name terms.
2
Something unimaginable in the normal circumstances of a military career. By the way, military interpreters were given military ranks and uniforms and they often had distinctive symbols to identify their corps. The hierarchical asymmetry among ranks was also subverted when encounters with enemy forces took place. Sonnenfeldt mentions an example in which he did not abide by German military practice when he participated in the detention of a group of Germans, including a high-ranking officer of the Nazi army and the latter complained of the fact that his status was not being respected when he was put in a truck with rank-and-file soldiers. Only the interpreters thirst for revenge for the atrocities the Nazis had perpetrated can explain his failure to perform his cultural brokerage abilities in this case, where he trespassed the non-
1
„Language Skills Said to Dwindle in Armed Services, The New York Times, January 4, 1981, quoted by
Müller 1981: 368.
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Sonnenfeldt‟s itinerary seems to be the opposite to the one observed by Müller (1981: 365): language specialists in units with few linguistic needs often become "fifth wheels" or general-purpose "jeep washers It seems rather a matter of scarcity of expert resources due to specific circumstances.

intervention and neutrality line and perhaps also the rules applicable to prisoners of war. This asymmetry, quite unthinkable except in war situations, can also be observed in photograph no 1 in which a British captain is talking with less martial demeanour than that shown by his interlocutor, a Japanese admiral. The little we can see of the interpreter in the photo shows that he surely stands in presence of his principals, as a result of his perceived lower position and, possibly, of his Japanese courtesy customs. And thirdly, military interpreters were called to work at times of war in a great variety of situations which ranged from intelligence and counterintelligence activities (carried out from relatively comfortable military intelligence centres, sometimes located at the home front) to combat areas, including remote outposts and behind-the-enemy-line zones, where their services may have varied from regular liaison with allied troops to logistical dealings with local civil populations (photo no and from interrogation of war prisoners to surrender of enemy units (photo no 3). The variable of the added stress of risking their lives should always betaken into account when considering their performance. To view the photographs mentioned in this article, please refer to the Imperial War Museum links that are quoted in the footnotes, where the description of the contents of each item can be found. Photo 1: ITEM REFERENCE : SE 5174 (4 October 1945). Captain Scott-Bell DSO of the Royal Navy speaks with Japanese Admiral Kondo through an interpreter after the landing of Allied occupation forces at Saigon. http://www.iwmcollections.org.uk/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?AC=GET_RECORD&XC=/dbtw- wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll&BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iwmcollections.org.uk%2FqryMain.php&TN=Unca t&SN=AUTO17294&SE=9871&RN=17&MR=25&TR=0&TX=1000&ES=0&CS=1&XP=&RF=allResu lts&EF=&DF=allDetails&RL=0&EL=0&DL=0&NP=1&ID=&MF=WPENGMSG.INI&MQ=&TI=0&D
T=&ST=0&IR=177144&NR=0&NB=0&SV=0&BG=0&FG=0&QS= Photo 2: Imperial War Museum photo collection. ITEM REFERENCE CA 13 (December 1943). An RAF Sergeant interpreter discusses domestic business with Portuguese women who have undertaken laundry work for RAF personnel in the tented encampment at Lagens. Link http://www.iwmcollections.org.uk/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?AC=GET_RECORD&XC=/dbtw- wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll&BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iwmcollections.org.uk%2FqryMain.php&TN=Unca t&SN=AUTO17294&SE=9871&RN=15&MR=25&TR=0&TX=1000&ES=0&CS=1&XP=&RF=allResu lts&EF=&DF=allDetails&RL=0&EL=0&DL=0&NP=1&ID=&MF=WPENGMSG.INI&MQ=&TI=0&D
T=&ST=0&IR=176306&NR=0&NB=0&SV=0&BG=0&FG=0&QS= Photo 3: Imperial War Museum collection. ITEM NAME MH 31610 (29 June 1951) A Korean interpreter for the Royal Canadian Regiment searches a North Korean prisoner just brought in by a patrol. Link http://www.iwmcollections.org.uk/dbtw-wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll?AC=GET_RECORD&XC=/dbtw- wpd/exec/dbtwpub.dll&BU=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iwmcollections.org.uk%2FqryMain.php&TN=Unca t&SN=AUTO17294&SE=9871&RN=8&MR=25&TR=0&TX=1000&ES=0&CS=1&XP=&RF=allResult s&EF=&DF=allDetails&RL=0&EL=0&DL=0&NP=1&ID=&MF=WPENGMSG.INI&MQ=&TI=0&DT
=&ST=0&IR=158129&NR=0&NB=0&SV=0&BG=0&FG=0&QS=



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