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IRAQ: Here we come, languagewise or unwise

The DLIFLC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Presidio of Monterey) which trains armed forces personnel in a wide variety of languages, is a great institution, but will it be replaced by machines? The Salt Lake Tribune (10/7/02) reports that ihe U.S. military is being equipped with PDAs and other mobile devices loaded with translation software. Lt. Col Kathy DeBolt, a senior officer at an intelligence technology lab (which?), says: "Should we, God forbid, go into Iraq, we'll have to ask 'Are there any chemicals here? Are there any facilities used to develop chemical or biological weapons?'" Translation software has been developed to assist conversations between speakers of English, Arabic, Kurdish and Farsi. The military has also been given 1,500 briefcase-sized document scanner-translators, which could be used to make on-the-spot rough translations into English of documents written in Dari, Pashto and Arabic".

It is really quite complicated. The official language of Iraq is Arabic, of which there is an Iraqi variant, but Kurdish, Aramaic, Mandanean, Turkic are also used. Farsi is spoken by displaced Iranians. Dari is related to Farsi. Pashto is the language of Afghanistan; it would not be much use in Iraq. I pity the machine and its users. How will they know which language to chose? My advise to our troops is to speak English, loud English. The DFLIFLC is a political football. Some years, politicians tried to move it in some pork-barrel operation. If the Congressman from the district where the PDAs are manufactured tries to have the DLIFLC replaced with PDAs made in his home district, I would be delighted to write in defense of the DLIFLC. However, the PDAs are probably made in China.

Ronald Hilton - 10/8/02