Sunday, September 12, 2010

Language Interpretation is a Sad Joke In US National Security

As covered before on this blog, the US Military still has trouble with translation services in Afghanistan, as it has just come out that 1/4 of Afghan translators can't pass proficiency tests.
"There are many cases where soldiers have gone out into the field and have spoken to elders [who] handed messages to the interpreter that a possible ambush three miles up the road would occur. The interpreter cannot read the message and they are attacked," Funk said. "We're talking about soldiers lives here."
Marc Peltier, MEP's chief operating officer, said in an interview with ABC News that he had "no reports from the field" of translators who could not communicate in Dari or Pashto, and said the company has received "100 percent outstanding" ratings from the Army and shared a copy of what he said was an internal company survey that showed 82 percent of its customers were satisfied with the performance of its translators. An attorney accompanying Peltier to the interview said the company would answer Funk's allegations in court, and not in the media.
Also worth noting is this Economist interview with journalist Lawrence Wright where he mentions the number of Arabic-speakers in the FBI.
Our intelligence community was extremely poorly prepared before 9/11. Since then it hasn’t done a good job of hiring the kind of people who speak and understand the languages and cultures of that region. One of the heroes of my book and my film, Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who came closer than anyone at stopping 9/11, was one of eight Arabic-speaking agents at the FBI on 9/11. Now there are nine.
A language spoken by millions of people in dozens of countries, as well as all the major Islamic terrorist groups (in Islam, the only true version of the Koran* is in Arabic)...and yet the FBI has all of nine people with security clearances who can understand it. Brilliant national security strategy, right there.

Finally, the Drug Enforcement Administration is looking for an Ebonics speaker.
And Ebonics is no longer spoken only by African-Americans, Sanders said, referring to it as "urban language" or "street language." He said he is aware of investigations in recent years in which it was spoken by African-Americans, Latinos and white people. "It crosses over geographic, racial and ethnic backgrounds," he said.
"[African-American English] is linguistic defiance being reinforced by hip-hop," said professor John Baugh, who leads the public relations committee of the Linguistic Society of America.
The DEA's recruiting "has it half right," Baugh said.
Although having translation help is a good law enforcement tool, Baugh said, the term "Ebonics" may be counterproductive because "the social positions of speakers have been the object of ridicule."
US Government branches being embarrassingly bad at translating Pashto and Arabic is one thing...but a government agency really needs a translator for an American version of English spoken by millions of people?

It's a wonder our military-industrial-security complex accomplishes anything at all.

(via Language Log)

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