New military strategy: if you can't teach GI's to conjugate in Arabic, try teaching linguists to kill

Dennis Baron debaron at
Fri Dec 26 02:14:13 UTC 2008

Just in time for the holidays, there's a new post on the Web of  

New military strategy: if you can't teach GI's to conjugate in Arabic,  
try teaching linguists to kill

Giving up on plans to beef up the nation's defenses by teaching  
thousands of military personnel critical languages, the army has  
decided that it's easier to train linguists to shoot and do one-handed  
push ups than it is to get soldiers to learn Arabic or Pashto.
True to its slogan, "Be all that you can be," the Army turns America's  
muffin-topped teens into lean, mean fighting machines. But while it  
has no problem training raw recruits to break down and reassemble  
their rifles blindfolded in a sandstorm, its well-publicized efforts  
to teach our troops the languages of the enemy have failed.

Most soldiers can't even pronounce Iran and Iraq correctly (as if an  
M-16 is not enough of a give-away, calling these countries eye-ran and  
eye-rack instantly labels you as "not from around here" in the tinder  
box that is the Middle East). . . .

there just aren’t enough non-Arab-Americans who speak Arabic and have  
the clearance to work in counter-terrorism and military operations.   
And so, instead of drilling hopelessly anglophone troops in the Arabic  
equivalent of,

                     I don't know but I've been told,

                     amo-amas-amat . . .

a tactic which hasn't produced enough fluent speakers of the language,  
the service is now looking for a few good native speakers of Arabic to  
join up for translator duty.
By combing through the millions of résumés on and emailing  
anyone listing Arabic as a language skill, Uncle Sam found enough  
volunteers to form the 51st TICO (Translator and Interpreter Company)  
and put them through translator training at a fake Iraqi village in  
the Mojave Desert. . . . .

Read the rest of this post on the Web of Language

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

read the Web of Language:

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