Cross-cultural miscommunication in a war zone
Savage Minds blogger Kerim has an interesting take on a Guardian Films video by John D McHugh, Teresa Smith and Alex Rees.
In the short video, a local Afghan elder and a coalition military leader fail to communicate their ideas about proper responses to Taliban fighters, due in large part to poor translation by the military translator.
Kerim refers to Deborah Cameron's The Myth of Mars and Venus when he suggests that, unlike classic discussions of cross-cultural miscommunication, this failure to understand one another results from serious power differentials.
Treating the military’s lack of respect for local cultural knowledge as a cultural problem which can be solved by hiring anthropologists ignores the very real ways in which the military itself operates as a system for producing knowledge about the world, and the role of local knowledge in that system.
This is an interesting and important observation, but I would add one more.
Simply being a bilingual, in the sense of speaking two languages relatively fluently, does not qualify one as a translator. The translator in the video does not appear to make a real attempt to communicate the Pashto speaker's message. A simple direct translation would have been more effective, assuming the video's subtitles are reasonably accurate. Better yet, translators should be given a brief course in interpretation and translation, covering issues of communication and context, as well as formal linguistic issues.