Language Practitioners

  • Improving professional capacities

Among language practitioners – those who work as professional interpreters or teach and train in this area – the problematics of interlingual communication in zones of crisis and war are of central and increasing concern.  One key approach has been educational, to try to improve the professional capacities of those working locally as language intermediaries. Barbara Moser-Mercer suggested (2008) that the consequences of poor communication ‘on the ground’ can be extremely serious both for the organisations working in these areas, and for the interpreters themselves.

In this scenario, she argued, training a cadre of proficient locally-based language intermediaries is an investment in the future development of the particular region: ‘Improved skills for interpreters in crisis and war zones…provide an excellent spring board for these very same interpreters to function during post-war and post-crisis reconstruction, enabling nations to participate more fully in rebuilding their societies and economies’. Starting from a detailed needs analysis among ICRC delegations, Moser-Mercer has developed two training modules, one focusing on the specifics of the communication situations such interpreters will encounter, and the other offering advanced consecutive interpreting skills. This educational project , InZone ( http :// virtualinstitute. eti., based at the University of Geneva, is tailored to the working practices of those in the field – a virtual learning environment with bite-size pieces of teaching – and seeks to provide a community of practice for interpreters who may well be isolated in their particular working environments.

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Safeguarding personnel

The other major initiative has been one of public awareness raising and personnel protection. The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) has taken a leading role in publicizing the hitherto hidden plight of language intermediaries working in crisis zones. As Linda Fitchett pointed out (2012), there has been no central registry of interpreter deaths, although at least 360 interpreters were killed, and more than 1200 injured in Iraq, working with US forces between 2003 and 2008. Protection of interpreters in the field and, most importantly, post conflict, has been shamefully inadequate, as the forty-six pending legal cases against the UK government mounted by former Iraqui interpreters, or their next of kin, demonstrate. AIIC’s approach, in concert with the lobbying group Red T, has been to develop a ‘Conflict Zone Field Guide for Civilian Translators/Interpreters and Users of Their Services’ ( This sets out in a clear and brief format the responsibilities and rights of both the interpreters themselves ( including Impartiality, Confidentiality, Accuracy), and of their employers (Respect, Protection, Support and so on).

Whilst some language research has challenged the interpreter paradigm of neutrality and impartiality, organisations seeking to safeguard and protect personnel in the field have been keen to position interpreters alongside organisations and professions which enjoy some measure of internationally accepted protection by virtue of their perceived neutrality. Red T in particular ( has called for interpreters to be given, ‘protected person status akin to that granted to ICRC staff’, and argued that there should be a UN resolution, ‘conferring legal status on Translators and Interpreters operating in conflict zones (similar to Resolution 1738 protecting journalists)’.

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Apter, Emily. 2006. The Translation Zone. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Baker, Catherine. 2012a. ‘When Bosnia was a Commonwealth Country: British Forces and Their Interpreters in Republika Srpska, 1995-2007’. In Languages and the Military : Alliances, Occupation and Peace-Building, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly .Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

————-    2012b. ‘ Being an Interpreter in Conflict’ ( with Simona Tobia), in Languages at War: Policies and Practices of Language Contacts in Conflict, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly: 201-221. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Baker, Mona. 2006. Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account. London and New York: Routledge.

————-2010.‘ Narratives of Terrorism and Security: “ Accurate” Translations, Suspicious Frames’. Critical Studies on Terrorism 3 (3): 347-64.

Barkawi, Tarak. 2006. Globalization and War. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

Bermann, Sandra, and Michael Wood. 2005. Nation, Language and the Ethics of Translation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Blommaert, Jan. 2009. The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Butterfield, Ardis. 2009. The Familiar Enemy: Chaucer, Language and Nation in the Hundred Years War.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Charalambous, Constadina. 2012. ‘ Learning the Language of “ The Other” in Conflict-Ridden Cyprus: Exploring Barriers and Possibilities’. In Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace-Building, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dragovic-Drouet, Mila. 2007. ‘ The Practice of Translation and Interpreting during the Conflicts in the Former Yugoslavia ( 1991-1999)’. In Translating and Interpreting Conflict, edited by Myriam Salama-Carr: 29-40. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.

Fitchett, Linda. 2012. ‘The AIIC Project to Help Interpreters in Conflict Areas’. In Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace-Building, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Inghilleri, Moira. 2005.’ The Sociology of Bourdieu and the Construction of the “Object” in Translation and Interpreting Studies’. The Translator 11 (2): 125-45.

——————–2008. ‘ The Ethical Task of the Translator in the Geo-Political Arena: from Iraq to Guantánamo Bay’, Translation Studies 1 (2): 212-23.

——————2009. ‘ Translators in War Zones: Ethics under Fire in Iraq’. In Globalization, Political Violence and Translation, edited by Esperanza Bielsa and Christopher Hughes: 207- 21. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

——————2010. ‘ “ You Don’t Make War without Knowing Why”: the Decision to Interpret in Iraq’. The Translator 16 (2): 175-96.

——————2011. Interpreting Justice. Ethics, Politics and Language. London and New York: Routledge.

Kelly. Michael. 2011. ‘Issues in institutional language policy: lessons learned from peace-keeping in Bosnia/Herzegovina’, European Journal of Language Policy, 3 (1): 61-80.

Kleinman, Sylvie. 2009. ‘ Un brave de plus: Theobald Wolfe Tone, Alias Adjutant-General James Smith, French Officer and Irish Patriot Adventurer, 1796-8’. In Franco-Irish Military Connections, 1550-1945: Proceedings of the Vincennes Conference, September 2007, edited by Nathalie Genêt-Rouffiac and David Murphy: 163-88. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Lewis, Justin. 2012. ‘ Languages at War: a UK Ministry of Defence Perspective’. In Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace-Building, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moser-Mercer, Barbara. 2008. ‘Interpreting in Zones of Crisis and War’, AIIC,, downloaded 29 March 2012.

Rafael, Vicente. 2007. ‘Translation in Wartime. Public Culture 19 (2): 239-46.

———————2009. ‘ Translation, American English, and The National Insecurities of Empire’. Social Text 101 27 (4): 1-23.

Salama-Carr, Myriam. 2007. ed. Translating and Interpreting Conflict. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.

Simon, Sherry. 2005. (ed.) Translation and Social Activism. Special Issue of TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 18 (2).

Stahuljak, Zrinka. 2000. ‘ Violent Distortions: Bearing Witness to the Task of the Wartime Translators’, TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 13 (1): 137-51.

——————–2010. ‘ War, Translation, Transnationalism: Interpreters In and Out of the War (Croatia, 1991-1992)’. In Critical Readings in Translation Studies, edited by Mona Baker: 391-414: London and New York: Routledge.

Tipton, Rebecca. 2011. ‘ Relationships of Learning between Military Personnel and Interpreters in Situations of Violent Conflict’. The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 5 (1): 15-40.

Tobia, Simona. 2012. ‘ Victims of War: Refugees’ First Contacts with the British in the Second World War’. In Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace-Building, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tozzi, Christopher. 2012 ‘One Army, Many Languages: Foreign Troops and Linguistic Diversity in the Eighteenth Century French Military’. In Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace-Building, edited by Hilary Footitt and Michael Kelly. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tymoczko, Maria. 2009. ‘ Translation, Ethics and Ideology in a Violent Globalizing World’. In Globalization, Political Violence and Translation, edited by Esperanza Bielsa and Christopher Hughes: 171-94. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Contact us

To get in touch please contact:

Prof. Hillary Footitt

University of Reading


Telephone: +44 (0) 118 378 8126

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About the project

Languages and international NGOs- addresses the issue of how research into languages and cultures can support the work of NGOs and aid agencies as they operate ‘on the ground’ in international conflict and crisis zones. It focuses on the language and cultural challenges faced by international NGOs, and the role and status of the local personnel they increasingly employ.

Over the past decade, major changes in the international NGO sphere have simultaneously emphasised the need for local community empowerment in humanitarian aid, and exposed the relative lack of cultural knowledge with which to facilitate such ‘bottom up’ intervention. In personnel terms, a generational shift in staff working for NGOs has brought into the sector workers who can no longer be assumed to have an area studies background and experience in the particular region. In addition, younger NGO staff members will have graduated from a British educational system in which encouragement for the acquisition of foreign language skills has notably declined. The humanitarian sector’s expectation of greater cultural sensitivity comes at a time when the humanitarian space itself is much less secure. As NGOs become increasingly risk-averse in their operations in crisis zones, they tend to restrict the movement of their personnel ‘on the ground’, and hence rely more and more on local intermediaries. The result of all these changes is that local intermediaries become vital transmitters of cultural knowledge between NGOs and the communities they serve, and thus key players in their own right in crisis operations.

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The Network

The network, Languages and international NGOs: cultural knowledge in communities in crisis (LINGOS) brings together linguists, international relations specialists, NGOs and professional interpreters/translators in order to:

  1. enable the four groups to focus together on the specific issue of languages and international NGOs, and the role of local intermediaries;
  2. identify the current gaps in research and praxis around this issue;
  3. develop a series of key research questions related to these gaps in order to advance future work in the area;
  4. argue for the salience of this research agenda in the wider NGO community, and with relevant government agencies.

The Network comprises:

  • language researchers working on the role of languages in conflict situations
  • international relations researchers with a particular interest in the work of humanitarian organisations
  • NGOs and humanitarian agencies which operate internationally
  • professional interpreters and translators with a particular concern for the employment and security of locally recruited personnel.
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LINGOS is convened by a language researcher, an international relations specialist, and a professional interpreter:

Hilary Footitt (Reading University) has experience in researching the role of foreign languages in war, having just completed the AHRC sponsored project, Languages at War: policies and practices of language contacts in conflict. She has published widely on this, and is co-editor of the new Palgrave Macmillan book series, Languages at War.

For more information about Hillary please follow this link

Vanessa Pupavac (Nottingham University) has written extensively on human rights and humanitarian aid, including the international politics of language rights. She has direct experience of working with NGO and relief groups like the Disasters Emergency Committee (Kosovo), and the International Advisory Panel for Irish Aid.

For more information about Vanessa please follow this link

Linda Fitchett ( International Association of Conference Interpreters: AIIC)  brings to the network the experience of AIIC’s own project on Interpreters in conflict zones, a vast background in the field of linguistic mediation, and a worldwide network of relevant practitioners.

For more information about Linda please follow this link

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Aims and Objectives

LINGOS aims to bring together languages and international relations specialists, international NGOs and professional interpreters in order to develop an interdisciplinary research agenda which is of specific relevance to the language-related challenges which NGOs face, and to the role which local language/cultural intermediaries play in danger zones.

Its objectives are:

  • to bring the four groups together in a structured preparatory workshop
  • to raise awareness within existing relevant networks of the challenges NGOs face in this area
  • to develop a research agenda in a ‘Building Future Projects’ event
  • to argue for the salience of this research agenda in the wider NGO world, and with relevant government and European agencies.
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welcome to LINGOS

This is a new AHRC project with Nottingham and AIIC

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