Essay: Japanese Americans to serve as Nisei translators
- May, 02, 2012
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In situations of war or conflict, the stakes are even higher in terms of the truth and efficacy of translation efforts. Nakamura (2008) described U.S. military efforts to recruit and maintain a cadre of Japanese Americans to serve as Nisei translators during World War II (see also Barlow, 2010).
The researcher observed that initial military expectations that there was a significant population of Japanese speakers fluent in the Nisei dialect proved to be wildly overinflated; of approximately 3,700 identified Nisei speakers, only 3% were expert in the language, another 4% were considered proficient but in need of some further language training, and another 3% were assessed be potential translators but only after receiving extensive language training. Of perhaps even greater concern was the question of loyalty and Nakamura noted that some military commanders and politicians were leery of recruiting Japanese-Americans to serve as translators in the war effort, fearing they would seek to favor Japan’s interests over the U.S. and would falsely report in their interpretations of Japanese communications to their American commanders.
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