After a decade of war, Afghan interpreters working with the U.S. Army speak a version of English gleaned from years spent with young American soldiers.
Most of them curse with the fluency of an infantryman. A recent conversation in Afghanistan helped reveal one of the linguistic legacies of our long war.
The American battalion commander at Combat Outpost Sayad Abad asked his Afghan counterpart why he was short soldiers for an upcoming operation. Khan, his interpreter, relayed the question to the Afghan officer in Dari.
The Afghan commander, who took a bullet through the chest when he fought on the side of the Soviets in the 1980s, spoke for about two minutes. By the end of his little speech he had worked himself into a minor fury, jabbing his finger in the air to make his point.
Khan, who is in his late 20s and learned much of his English from hanging around with soldiers, translated: “Sir, he’s very upset. He says his soldiers went home for their leave but they don’t come back. They are sitting at home, drinking their chai, not following orders, ----ing around when they are supposed to be at work. Sir, he says they are chillin’ like willens.”
“He said they are chillin’ like what?” asked Lt. Col. Robert Horney, a 41-year-old career Army officer from Lebanon, Pa.
“You know sir. They are chillin’ like willens,” said Khan, struggling to get his lips around the unfamiliar “v” sound.
“Villains?” said Horney. “He really said that they were chillin’ villains? Those were the exact words he used?”
“No sir,” Khan replied. “Not exact words. But I don’t just translate. I like to put it into words that you understand.”
“Okay, “ Horney said. “Thank you, Khan. That helps.”