What Does a Cryptologic Linguist Do?

C.B. Fox

A cryptologic linguist is a person employed by a military organization to perform a variety of tasks related to translation. The linguist is given extensive training in all aspects of the job, including training in the languages that will be used. Some linguists specialize in one foreign language and perform translations of written or oral language, while others are moderately familiar with a number of different languages and determine what languages people use in a certain location. The primary concern of a cryptologic linguist is to gather information for the military.

During an interrogation, a cryptologic linguist can ask questions and listen to responses in the subject’s native language.
During an interrogation, a cryptologic linguist can ask questions and listen to responses in the subject’s native language.

One way that a cryptologic linguist can provide the military with information is through the translation of written or oral materials. Local newspapers and publications as well as intercepted documents may need to be translated into the native language of the military, so that the information contained in these documents can be analyzed and acted on. The same techniques may be used to gather information from news programs, audio transmissions, or even conversations overheard on the street. Linguists may also be employed to translate information from their native language into other languages, so that information can be passed from the military to citizens in an occupied area.

In some cases, a cryptologic linguist scans for keywords or phrases in many different kinds of media. This linguist may have a working knowledge of the language but not be proficient enough to perform complete translations. In this case, he or she will scan a document or listen to a transmission and then make a decision about whether or not it should be translated and analyzed based on the presence of key words.

Another common part of the cryptologic linguist's job is the interrogation of captured enemies. The cryptologic linguist is useful because he or she is able to ask questions and listen to responses in the prisoner's native language. Linguists can serve as translators or can be trained to conduct interrogations themselves.

Though a cryptologic linguist often has extensive knowledge of one foreign language, there are also jobs for linguists with moderate knowledge of several languages. Various languages are spoken in many parts of the world. A linguist can be used to determine which languages are spoken in a given place so that other linguists, with proficiency in these languages, can be called in.

The bulk of a cryptologic linguist's job is translation, though gathering and recording information may also be a part of his job. Some linguists work with recording equipment to gather intelligence that they will later translate. Linguists are also often responsible for keeping detailed records on the information gathered by intelligence missions or translations.

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