The Linguist

The Linguist 54,2

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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8 The Linguist Vol/54 No/2 2015 FEATURES How an overhaul of NATO's language policy has enabled the multinational force to work effectively. By Ian Jones I n 2011, NATO issued its very first doctrine on how to provide linguistic support for military operations. But how and why did it develop that document? Answers are to be found in the alliance's history and the changes that took place after 1989. NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was established in 1949 to counter the military threat from the Soviet Union and its allies in Central and Eastern Europe. For 40 years, until the demise of the USSR and the reunification of Germany in 1989-1991, NATO never conducted a real operation. Throughout the Cold War period, it planned and prepared to counter a Soviet invasion, maintaining large forces and conducting major exercises, but there never was a live conflict. NATO adopted its official languages, English and French, from its inception. It employed linguists to translate and interpret between those languages and, to a lesser extent, from and to the languages of the countries hosting its headquarters and other bodies. During the Cold War, the emphasis was thus on communication among the member nations. In line with wider developments in translation and interpreting since WWII, NATO linguistic services became increasingly professionalised. Its linguists are now expected to have university-level education and professional training, and to adhere to recognised standards of conduct and ethics. A number of major changes in NATO began to take place from the 1990s, as it started to reach out to its former adversaries, including Russia. Many of the former Warsaw Pact countries became members, beginning with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Organisational changes were put in place as the alliance was streamlined and adapted for new tasks. But most significant, from the language point of view, was its first intervention outside its 'area': the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia- Herzegovina that began in 1996. That operation could not have been carried out effectively without being able to communicate with the local population and officials in their language. Very few NATO military personnel spoke Serbo-Croat (as the language was then known), so large numbers of linguists were employed, both by the national forces assigned to the operation and by the NATO headquarters controlling their activities. These were local people who had varying degrees of proficiency in English and often little or no experience of interpreting and translating. There was little choice but to recruit such persons; others were simply not available. The recruitment and employment of linguists were left up to each individual force and HQ element. There were no established standards for the recruitment, testing and A fighting chance US ARMY PHOTO BY PFC. SARAH DE BOISE, 8/6/08 VIA FLICKR (CC BY 2.0)

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