History of Interpretation





There is no proof regarding the precise period when interpretation started.  Unlike written translation interpretation leaves no record. The first recorded proof of interpretation dates back to 3000 BC in Ancient Egypt. Interpretation has existed ever since man has spoken and it has played an important role in connecting people of different origins.


Ancient Greeks and Romans forced the slaves and prisoners to learn multiple languages and translate for the nobles. Learning the language of the people they defeated was not respectable for them. Latin, was the language of diplomacy, in Europe, until the 17th century, all nations had Latin speaking officials to carry on diplomatic relations. Linking the gap between different languages enabled pacts and treaties to happen, hence interpreters have shaped the world we witness today.


Apart from trade, religion also made interpretation popular. The people of different religions have journeyed into foreign boundaries to share and teach their faith. In the 7th and 8th century, Arabs went to West Africa to trade and introduced Islam to the Africans. Interpreters spread the words of the Koran to the villagers and made Arabic, the language of the Koran, important.  Christianity has always craved to extend into foreign lands. In 1253, William of Rubruck was sent by Louis IX to Asia with interpreters to spread the message of Christ.


Expeditions to different lands saw people come across others who spoke a different language making the role of interpreters imperative. In the early nineteenth century, the legendary expedition of Lewis and Clarke hired Charbonneau and his wife Sacagawea as interpreters, Sacagawea spoke Shoshone and Hidatsa, and Charbonneau Hidatsa and French.


In the twentieth century, simultaneous interpretation was tried at the International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 1927, and the United Nations’ Resolution 152 established simultaneous interpreting as a permanent service for the UN.


Community interpreting was created for public service providers and individual clients who did not speak the same language. It started in the 1970s in Australia after the Second World War with the influx of refugees and later spread to Europe and the US. Telephonic interpretation came into practice in 1973. In 1978 the US Court Interpreters Act promoted the development in court interpreting by compelling interpreters to be educated through professional bodies or universities.



After the Second World War and the immigration of many refugees, the Code of Judicial Procedure in Sweden made interpreter service in court, an immigrant’s right. The State Officials Act also extends the interpreter service when an immigrant interacts with the public officials. For a high standard, Sweden has been training interpreters since 1968.



Today countries, cities, and towns are becoming more and more multilingual sharply raising the value and growth of community interpretation and a steady demand for quality interpreters.


About Sanjoy Dutt

Sanjoy Dutt, an engineer, and a linguist is passionate about traveling and writing. He has lived and worked in various places in India and Nepal and now lives in America. While exposed to the struggles of life in early childhood he is a strong believer that challenges in life makes you stronger. He and his wife Lindsay enjoy exploring areas of the US and occasionally struggle with the pots and pans in the kitchen. Sometimes the experiments are delightful.​ Sanjoy has written travelogues and short stories for various journals in Bengali and English. As a child, Sanjoy loved drawing pictures. He has done all the illustrations for his book 'Calcutta in Shorts'.
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4 Responses to History of Interpretation

  1. One other group of people who need interpreters are those who are deaf. Deaf have their own signs in regions of the U.S., different ways of signing, and, of course, the oral languages of the countries where they live influence their language as well.

    I would think prisoners and slaves knowing foreign languages but not those who wanted them to learn them could put them at a disadvantage.

    Interesting article. I love learning about language history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ankur Mithal says:

    A generation back interpretation was a popular service and pastime. Increasingly, the world seems to be moving towards a mono-language situation, the language being English. While it becomes easier to transact, I guess we will lose many nuances and traits as languages fade away.

    Liked by 1 person

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