January 31, 2005

The multi-purpose linguist

Yesterday's NYT op-ed column by Maureen Dowd is far more interesting for reasons other than this one, but consider the following passage:

After the prisoner spat in her face, she left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist suggested she tell the prisoner that she was menstruating, touch him, and then shut off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash.

I've gotten used to the term 'linguist' being used to mean 'interpreter', especially lately; I understand it when 'Arabic linguist' means someone who can translate to and/or from Arabic and 'Iraqi linguist' means more specifically someone who can translate to and/or from Iraqi Arabic. (Note that it's usually assumed and/or understood that English is on the other end of the translation.) Now obviously, a really good interpreter has more than just a dictionary-and-basic-grammar-level understanding of the languages to be translated; they also tend to have a good understanding of the different customs of the people who speak those languages. And so here we have a 'Muslim linguist' -- the idea being that this linguist has an understanding of Islamic customs and can thus be called upon to share this cultural knowledge just as conveniently as they can be called upon to translate (to and from Arabic, presumably, but who knows).

I kinda wish this linguist had said, "What are you asking me for? I'm just an interpreter," and kept their big mouth shut.

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at January 31, 2005 07:20 PM