Surviving in Silence

People, in general, may think that the most serious hazard that a translator can face is a backache or a stress crisis. However, those who translate and interpret can be exposed to greater threats. You may be surprised by the many working contexts that can put the linguist’s health, life, and freedom at risk.
Translation and interpreting are two of the most ancient professions. Both were used since people started to move from one region to another to communicate with the new civilizations either peacefully or by force. Translators and interpreters were always there: right in between. A lot has changed since ancient times; however, we are still in the same awkward position, where there is a conflict of interests and a conflict of cultures.

War zones are a clearly dangerous working setting. Foreign journalists and soldiers, as well as peacemakers and aid organizations, need local interpreters in order to operate. These translators are of paramount importance in the peace process of their countries, but they can be threatened, hurt or killed by extremist groups. For example, in 2010 in Afghanistan, six interpreters working for NATO were kidnapped and beheaded by the Taliban. (See: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/taliban-behead-interpreters-in-bid-to-halt-nato-offensive-djhlsh2fcg8)

To translate content that might be related to supporting a political party or to disapproving the government in power can also make the translator’s wellbeing, life or freedom vulnerable. For instance, in 2009, an Uyghur translator was sentenced to 11 years in prison for translating news that the Chinese government viewed as inciting separatism of state.

In the last years, there have been different social and legal projects to protect translators and interpreters who work in dangerous environments. Some of these actions have been promoted by Red T, a non-profit organization that fights for translators and interpreters’ welfare. Together with five major international language associations (AIIC, FIT, IAPTI, CLI, and WASLI), Red T has been advocating for a UN resolution that will grant translators and interpreters specific protection under international law, and that the crimes committed to them will be prosecuted. (Support the Red T initiative: https://red-t.org/our-work/un-petition/)

After all the attempts of keeping down the voice of translators and interpreters by different threats, they have survived in the silence.  These linguists mediate between cultures, unbiased to facilitate communication, and ultimately achieve peace.

By: Andrea Chetti