The Linguist

The Linguist 52,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES Negotiating asylum Sabir Hasan Birot looks at the challenges of interpreting for Kurdish asylum-seekers in the UK A Kurdish interpreter faces many challenges; if they are working with asylum-seekers, they are confronted with many more. One of the first issues is likely to be that Kurdish is a multidialectal language. Kurmanji, Soranî, Bahdīnī and Zazaki are the four major dialects. What makes Kurdish even more difficult than many other multidialectal languages is that Kurdistan was long ago divided between four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Thus, the dialects spoken in Turkey have been influenced by Turkish, those spoken in Iran by Persian, and those spoken in Iraq and Syria by Arabic, including a large number of borrowed words. I come from Iraqi Kurdistan and speak Soranî, so I found it very difficult when I was asked to interpret the Kurmanji dialect spoken by Kurds from Turkey. In such a situation, the quality of the interpreting not only depends on the interpreter's knowledge of the second language (English, in my case), but also on their knowledge of the first language. I read a news report in The Copenhagen Post recently, entitled 'Poor Interpreters put Asylum Seekers at Risk'. It told the story of an Afghan who had an Iranian interpreter for his first interview with the Immigration Office. The asylum-seeker and the interpreter spoke very different dialects of Persian. For his next They think interpreters should be able to answer questions on everything from asylum cases to legal matters 8 The Linguist interview, the Refugee Appeals Board used an interpreter who was trained in both Persian dialects and revealed mistakes made by the Iranian interpreter, who had used several words that had a very different meaning in the Afghan dialect. When the man's asylum case failed, his lawyer, Helge Nørrlung, said poor interpreting 'could have been the reason why he appeared untrustworthy'. This incident involves dialects of Persian, but is an indication of the types of difficulties faced by all interpreters working with multidialectal languages. For me, the solution was simply not to take jobs in the Kurmanji dialect. This meant I had fewer jobs, but as I could not guarantee that I could do the jobs effectively – and therefore that the work would meet clients' expectations – I thought it better to register only in the dialects I am fluent in, at least until I improve my competence and confidence in Kurmanji. Varied settings Working with asylum-seekers involves various settings. A business interpreter's domain is likely to be the world of business and a conference interpreter's domain is likely to be politics and international relations. When working with asylum-seekers, interpreters can find themselves interpreting for the UK Border Agency, the Home Office, the police, solicitors, courts, the NHS and the Job Centre. Each setting can be further subdivided. Working for the NHS, for instance, can involve different departments in a hospital, including accident and emergency, physiotherapy and maternity. Working in all or some of these settings and sub-settings requires an interpreter to have adequate knowledge of various specialised terms. AUGUST/SEPTEMBER GAPS IN UNDERSTANDING Kurdish asylum-seekers at the Refugee Council in London (right); and (left) a Kurdish refugee from Turkey. Interpreter Sabir Birot has had particular difficulties with the Kurmanji dialect from Turkey As a useful strategy, when I am given my first assignment in a government institution or hospital department, I search for relevant information online – for example by checking the NHS website for details about the department. This has been really useful in giving me an overview of the nature of the service offered to clients or patients attending that institution or department. Thanks to the internet, it is now easy to access information about the services

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