Timeline: the History of Interpreting

  • 3000 BCE

    Egyptians

    Egyptians
    Presence of a hieroglyph signifying ‘’interpreter’’ or ‘’interpreting’’.
    Earliest references to interpreters.
  • 538 BCE

    Babylonian Exile

    Babylonian Exile
    Aramaic was the diplomatic language. The Jewish faith relied on interpreters.
  • 538 BCE

    Consecutive interpreting of the Torah

    Consecutive interpreting of the Torah
    This practice became obligatory in the synagogue. It was read in public in both languages, verse by verse. Initially in Aramaic, then into Greek and Arabic. It's still obligatory for the Jemenite.
  • 601

    West Africa relations with the Arab

    West Africa relations with the Arab
    These regions began to make connections due to cultural, commercial and political reasons. Interpreters facilitated the spread of Islam by translating preachers’ speeches into the local languages.
  • 1401

    Europeans started conquering the world

    Europeans started conquering the world
    Christian missionaries used interpreters to win converts, so they made contact between Europeans and Indigenous peoples in the Americas. They needed to communicate due to cultural reasons, commercial exchange, conquest and conflict resolution.
  • 1501

    European kidnapped natives

    European kidnapped natives
    They taught them the language and used them for interpreting (although many escaped). Besides, slaves learned the language by what is called ‘immersion’ today and were sold with that ability.
  • 1519

    Famous Interpreters: Malinche

    Famous Interpreters: Malinche
    Native interpreter who served conqueror Cortéz (She spoke the language of Aztecs and Mayas, also Spanish) from 1519 to 1524.
  • Decline of Latin

    Decline of Latin
    Until this time, Latin was used as a lingua franca, a medium of communication between people speaking different languages. It was the language of the church, science, letters, diplomacy in Europe. Interpreting is mentioned in Late Latin literature.
  • French as the principal language of European diplomacy

    French as the principal language of European diplomacy
    The prestige of the French court of Louis XIV contributed to this fact.
  • George Washington

    George Washington
    The president proceeded into the wilderness to establish contact with Indians and relied on a number of interpreters.
  • Beginning of Industrial Revolution

    Beginning of Industrial Revolution
    This period gave rise to international organizations in such fields as railroads and telecommunications. Consecutive interpreting emerged as a distinct activity performed by a body of professionals who were visible to larger international groups.
  • Interpreting in Napoleon Campaign in Egipt and Palestine

    Interpreting in Napoleon Campaign in Egipt and Palestine
    The French expedition to the Middle East contains numerous references to the work of translators and interpreters (French and Arabic) Jean-Michel Venture de Paradis was one of the most iconic ones.
  • Official languages became acceptable

    Official languages became acceptable
    It became acceptable for the representative of a nation to use the official language of that nation.
  • Famous Interpreters: Sacajawea

    Famous Interpreters: Sacajawea
    She was a well-known figure who served as the interpreter to the Lewis and Clark expedition and spoke the language of Indian tribes and English.
  • Teaching of interpreting techniques

    Teaching of interpreting techniques
    In the early part of the 20th century, the teaching of interpreting techniques as a different discipline apart from language training began to be taken seriously.
  • Famous Interpreters: Paul Manteoux

    Famous Interpreters: Paul Manteoux
    He spoke English and French. He was among the best interpreters of the Paris Peace Talks who served as an interpreter between the British and French. He was gifted with an exceptional memory and could interpret whole discourses without taking notes.
  • Negotiations end of World War I

    Negotiations end of World War I
    Interpreters played a critical role in these negotiations, beginning with armistice talks culminating in Paris Conference of 1919.
  • Decline of French as the language of diplomacy

    Decline of French as the language of diplomacy
    French lost the privileged status as the language of diplomacy. Victors of the war made accommodations with respect to language because English was increasingly supplanting it. Both English and French became the official languages of the conference itself and the documents emanating from it.
  • Special equipment for simultaneous interpreting developed by the IBM

    Special equipment for simultaneous interpreting developed by the IBM
    Consecutive interpreting began to be considered too difficult, especially when more than two languages were involved. Special equipment for simultaneous interpreting (a system of earphones and microphones) was developed by the International Business Machines (IBM) and introduced to the League of Nations.
  • The Filene-Finlay-IBM system

    The Filene-Finlay-IBM system
    The first system for simultanoeus interpreting was first put into use in 1927 (in combination with consecutive interpreting).
  • First time simultaneous interpreting was used for a conference

    First time simultaneous interpreting was used for a conference
    It was at the International Congress of Physiology in Leningrad. The inaugural address was given by Nobel laureate Ivan Pavlov.
  • Simultaneous interpreting temporally vanished

    Simultaneous interpreting temporally vanished
    This happened in the sphere of international relations during World War II because the activities of the League of Nations (used English, French and Spanish) were curtailed.
  • University programs started aiming at training professional interpreters

    University programs started aiming at training professional interpreters
    Universities: Genova, Vienna, Mainz/Germersheim, Saarland, Georgetown, Heidelberg). The development of formal interpreting training had led to the emergence of a field of studies in its own right.
  • IMB’s simultaneous interpreting equipment surfaced again

    IMB’s simultaneous interpreting equipment surfaced again
    The equipment was used again at a conference. However, conditions were far from ideal. Interpreters sat in a basement beneath the speakers’ platform and the shuffling of feet overhead.
  • United Nations came into existence

    United Nations came into existence
    After the end of World War II, requirements for interpretation grew more complex as the number of languages increased (six official languages).
  • Famous Interpreters: Colonel Léon Dostert

    Famous Interpreters: Colonel Léon Dostert
    He served as a simultaneous interpreter and was the chief of interpreting and translation services at Nuremberg Trials and World War II.
  • Simultaneous interpretating became a permanent service (U.N. resolution)

    Simultaneous interpretating became a permanent service (U.N. resolution)
    To be used as an alternative or in combination with consecutive interpretation.
  • Simultaneous interpreting was fully accepted

    Equipment significantly improved.
  • Language combinations began to multiply significantly

    Language combinations began to multiply significantly
    It began mainly with the enlargement of the European Community (now the European Union).
  • Current status of interpreting

    Current status of interpreting
    Today, consecutive interpreting is still used in the context of court and community interpreting. On the other hand, simultaneous interpreting, greatly enhanced by sophisticated technology, is now widespread in most intergovernmental agencies and at multilingual conferences around the world.