The heart of the conflict – Challenges, complexities and paradoxes intrinsic to the role of interpreters in conflict zones.
The figure of the interpreter in conflict zones has existed since ancient times, making oral communication possible between speakers of different languages and facilitating understanding among differing cultures. It appears with no doubt that the need for interpreters and their services in conflicts has been a reality throughout history. This affirmation is endorsed, for example, by the presence of interpreters during the march of the ‘ten thousand’ soldier army of Cyrus the Younger (Rochette 1996: 325), in the expeditions to Central Asia by Alexander the Great, (Gehman 1914: 33), during the Greco-Persian Wars (Mairs 2011: 65), the Crusades (Delisle y Woodsworth 1995: 246), the expeditions to the New World (Valero Garcés 1996: 63; Alonso Araguás et al. 2008), Napoleon’s campaigns in the Middle East (Roditi 1982: 7), the Opium Wars (Wang-chi Wong 2007: 41), the First and the Second World Wars (Footitt y Tobia 2013: 12; Kujamäki 2016), the Spanish Civil War (Kowalsky 2004), the Balkan’s War (Stahuljak 1999: 34; Baker 2010), and nowadays, the current conflicts in, for example, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Interpreters in conflict zones – who offer their services in all stages of a conflict (Baigorri-Jalón 2011) – perform an essential role in a number of war-related scenarios: with intelligence-gathering activities (Gómez-Amich 2016), on the frontline (Inghilleri 2009), during military interrogations (Alonso- Araguás 2015), in interactions with the local population (Hoedemaekers and Soeters 2009), and in advising missions with local armies (Hajjar 2016). In such complex scenarios, a general taxonomy of the figure of interpreter in conflict zones seems to be complicated (Ruiz Rosendo and Barea Muñoz 2017), especially considering that there is a series of different interpreter profiles working in this kind of scenarios, i.e. military interpreters (military personnel who works as linguists), locally-recruited interpreters, humanitarian interpreters, UN language assistants, fixers, and staff interpreter (cf. Allen 2012; Ruiz Rosendo and Barea Muñoz 2017 for a more detailed classification of this figure). [Read more…]