Sites of transnational conflict

Whilst the setting for all this research, both the detailed case studies and the translation/interpreting scholarship, has largely been one of war and conflict, the fundamental points that are being made are arguably of high relevance to any study of languages in crisis zones: the linguistic landscapes created by those who intervene; the relative absence of institutional policy-making for languages; the invisibility of local civilians who interpret; the implication of translation and interpretation in constructing narratives which situate intervention; the social and professional roles of the interpreter; and the challenge which ‘on the ground’ operations may pose to more traditional understandings of the appropriate role and training of local linguists.

More broadly, there is a growing recognition that war is by no means the only site of transnational conflict. Any space in which an institution engages with the foreign is potentially a site of confrontation. Thus for example, Inghilleri (2011) places asylum adjudication side by side with war in her research on ethics, politics and language, and the linguistic anthropologist and sociologist Jan Blommaert (2009) includes asylum application as a site of transnational conflict in his study of the sociolinguistics of globalization. With the growth and recognition of public service interpreting – in police interviews, in courts, in the NHS – the issues which researchers have signalled as being of relevance to interpreters in war are increasingly being seen as vitally important in other sites and for other situations.

To some extent at least, the assumed benignity of a situation (peace or war) is less important than the site itself – transnational, with an institution which is engaged in negotiating its understanding of the foreign. The asymmetries of power which characterise war are equally present in these other contexts. More generally, as Myriam Salama-Carr argues (2007, 1-9), interlingual mediation often involves some form of confrontation. Translation and interpreting are themselves sites of conflict, constructing and reordering identities in the power relationships of geopolitical confrontation.

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