Language Policy

What has been much less evident in such research has been the existence of institutional markers, policies which recognise the key importance of languages and prepare in advance for the language dimensions of conflict. The general pattern emerging from case studies of past conflicts has been what Michael Kelly terms ‘bricolage’( 2011), an early phase in which linguistic resources are hastily found, assembled and pieced together in response to an unexpected/emergency deployment, followed by later attempts to regularise and professionalize language provision.

Where languages do impinge on policy making – the MOD’s integrated inter-services languages unit (Defence Operational Languages Support Unit, DOLSU) for example – their role (Lewis, 2012) is largely defined as one which is fully embedded within army structures, the concern being to train and deploy military linguists who will be operating on the ground as army personnel. Recent case studies however have particularly underlined the part which civilian linguists (as opposed to military linguists) play within most conflict situations, an area which is generally outside the interests of official policymaking.

Recruiting such linguists is most often a responsibility subcontracted to others outside the military, or left to a relatively junior officer in the actual theatre of conflict. The key role of locals in crisis zones – their functions (often engaged in multiple extra-linguistic tasks), their relationship with the local communities, and their protection and after-life beyond the terms of the specific deployment – is generally well outside the pressing concerns of policymakers. Local linguists are either invisible, or if seen at all, are considered to be something of a second order problem.

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