15 August 2010

Translating for the Linguists

The only exciting thing recently is an on-going DoD audit of my company's local national linguist (LNL) programme that I've had the good fortune of chaperoning.  If nothing else, and really it hasn't been doing much, the audit is teaching me quite a bit about both the DoD and Afghans.  Watching the auditors attempt to understand the LNLs, I realize how clueless I must frequently look.  The linguists speak fluidly about working BDOC for CSTC-A or how they're received their CI screening from the MOI for the HIB visa package...  Well, let me just say that trying to follow an Afghan accent speaking military jargon is no easy task.

Of course, the language barrier goes both ways.  The auditors have a question about how the linguists would react if they observed an unethical situation that is a complete non-starter.  They LNLs are stumped by both the hypothetical and the concept of ethics.  Either they think they auditors are discussing a security concern, inwhich case they say it's the army's issue, or they take a see no evil approach ("if the manager doesn't realize someone is getting paid for hours they didn't work, that's the manager not doing his job.  It's not my problem.").

Either way, both parties are so very literal and rigid in sticking to their respective semantic guns they hardly understand one another at all.  My favourite example came when one of the auditors asked a linguist what languages he spoke, to which the LNL replied, "Pashtu, Dari, English, Urdu, and Deutsche."  The auditor stared at him incredulously and asked, "you speak Dutch?"  "No, no," the linguist laughed.  "That's like French.  I speak Deutsche."  "So...you don't speak Dutch?" the auditor asked, brow furrowed.  I'm not supposed to interrupt audits, but I couldn't help myself.  "German.  He speaks German," I offered.  "Yes," the linguist smiled, "Deutsche."  So I've spent the better part of the last week translating between Afghan linguists and the DoD.  I think they should have invited me to the Kabul Conference.  At the very least, I deserve a linguist's salary, right?