Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Navy linguists save the day !! (updated)

Heroic figures -- larger than life -- silhouetted against the evening sky, as they patrol the Red Sea, or the Persian Gulf, defending freedom everywhere.  Who are they?  Why, none other than those legendary titans, the heroes of song and story,

 ~ ~ The Linguists ~ ~

Read about their latest triumph here:


And click here for the further adventures of these dashing characters.


~

[Update 7 August 2013]   We earlier posted an essay on the question of Women in Combat and gender-norming.
Eager for a servicewoman's perspective, I asked a Navy acquaintance -- a linguist and intel analyst by trade and training --  if she had ever seen action downrange.  Now, the Navy is not (apart from the Seals) generally known for action out front, up close & personal;  yet officially it is part of an organization that includes the Marines, and she had indeed been attached to a Marines unit, in the capacity of translator, during the height of the Iraq war:  and that, in Ramadi, the worst of the worst.
"Were you shot at?"  I asked.
Almost daily, she replied.
"Did you personally shoot back?"
"Once or twice."
"And ... Would you say that you had therefore been 'in combat'."  After all, she had been attached to a combat unit, even though she was there primarily for her Arabic skills.
She thought about this hard, frowning.  Finally she said, hesitantly: "N-no, I guess not."  As to why not, she offered the curious explanation that "we mostly couldn't see who was shooting at us" -- which hardly makes the matter more reassuring, one would think. 
I then inquired her position on Women in Combat.   Now she did not hesitate:  "I have a special and definite position on that.  They should be allowed to join combat units;  but only if they meet the exact same criteria as men."
"No gender-norming in other words?"
"Not for combat."
And indeed, the distinction is quite valid.   When you're working in garrison, as a highly trained specialist in intellectual subjects that take years to learn to do well,  it really doesn't matter how many push-ups you can do.

[pre-date]  Ernst Fischer’s memoir recalling the wind-up of World War I, offers an anecdote in which some language smarts  saved the lives of him and his buddies:

So marschierten wir bis Cilly.  Dort stürmten wir einen der überfüllten Heimkererzüge.  Einer der Waggons wurde durch einen MG-Schützen [machine-gunner, i.e.] verteidigt.  Er schoß auf uns.  Was uns rettete, war nicht die Pistole in der Faust, sondern die tschechische Sprache meiner begleiter.  Auf einem Trittbrett  fanden wir Platz.
Erinnerungen und Reflexionen (1969), p. 99

(Compare the nail-biting final scene at the airport, in the movie “Argo”, where a Farsi linguist  saves the day.)

~

Earlier updates:

[Update 11 I 12] A glimpse into the thrilling everday life of linguists:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/world/middleeast/iran-imposes-death-sentence-on-us-man-accused-of-spying.html?hpw=&pagewanted=print

[Update 25 I 12]  OK -- gotta admit.  The Navy Seals are pretty awesome too.
Actually -- bodaciously awesome:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/01/somalia-rescue-hostages-pirates.html

We salute you, heroes !

Commercial break
Hereunder a link  to a remarkable work of linguistics:
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

[Update 9 II 12]
These folks thought they could skimp on linguists:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/shortcuts/2012/feb/08/diesel-fuel-no-smoking-arabic
Well, were they ever wrong !!


[Update 20 V 12] Voice I.D. -- often crucial; not an exact science.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/trayvon-martin-case-911-call-two-experts-reach-two-much-different-conclusions/2012/05/19/gIQAtuapbU_story.html?hpid=z2
"a witness list that includes two audio experts who have said the opposite"

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