The Linguist

The Linguist 53,5

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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10 The Linguist OCTOBER/NOVEMBER LANGUAGES AT WAR The professionalisation of interpreting began during WWI, but has the industry really moved on in the last 100 years, asks Sandrijn Van Den Noortgate T he First World War left its mark on several areas of life. Blood transfusions were popularised, drones and industrial fertilizer were invented, but the impact on the interpreting profession is, perhaps, less well known. As the first global conflict, involving more than 32 countries, the war was inherently multilingual, and large numbers of interpreters were needed in various situations for the first time. The interpreting tasks can be divided into three categories: humanitarian, military and diplomatic/conference. So how do their working conditions and professional standing compare with those experienced by interpreters in comparable situations today? Humanitarian: on the home front As the Germans advanced through Belgium, people fled, with around 250,000 crossing the North Sea to England. Very few knew any English so help was needed, and this was often found with women's organisations. The men had gone off to war and women felt that they, too, should contribute to the war effort. They organised themselves into volunteer groups, such as the Women's Emergency Corps and Women's Catholic League, and took care of refugees by providing lodgings, healthcare, education, food and interpreting services. As well as interpreting, these volunteers were cultural brokers, who met the incoming trains and offered information on food, lodgings and further travel. Some were Belgians or had spent time in Belgium. The congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, for example, originated in Belgium, coming to the UK in the 1850s. It was a very international community and, from 1895 onwards, all novices spent a year at the convent in Haacht, Belgium. Many of them therefore knew at least some Flemish. As the Ursulines wished to propagate the Christian faith through community service, it is likely that some of the nuns volunteered as interpreters. Belgian priests were also a good source of interpreting. Over the course of a century, little has changed. Humanitarian interpreting in conflict zones and disaster areas is still largely done by volunteers. However, it was recently recognised that humanitarian interpreters need training too, and for that purpose InZone was set up in 2010. InZone offers both virtual and on-site training courses for interpreters working with the UN and the Red Cross. The interpreters are trained in note-taking, interpreting skills and coping strategies for the traumatic situations they might encounter. Military: labourers from China As the war waged on, the troops at the frontlines needed help with ordinary tasks, such as digging trenches, unloading trucks and repairing vehicles. The many casualties left the troops shorthanded, so they contracted Chinese non-combat troops from 1917 to 1920. The number of workers in the Chinese Labour Corps is uncertain, but estimates range from 92,000 to 200,000. About 80% were illiterate and could not be expected to speak foreign languages, so there were also opportunities for skilled workers, including interpreters, in port cities such as Qingdao. Those applying had to Emerging from the Great War

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