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Interpretation through the Ages

By Yana Schottenstein

As a professional interpreter and the owner of an interpretation and translation company, I often find myself thinking about the ways that people in history have used language to communicate with other cultures before ‘interpretation’ was a career path.

Egytpian hieroglyphs for 'to converse / interpreter'

According to linguists at Wake Forest University, the first record of interpreters being used is in Ancient Egypt, dating back over 3000 years ago. The hieroglyphs used for ‘interpreter’ include a man kneeling with one hand gesturing to his mouth, and this symbol conceptualizes “to converse”.

Interpreters were also present in Ancient Greece and Rome, communicating between diplomats and religious leaders across multiple languages. As trade slowly connected continents, interpreters were brought on to help facilitate early globalization. Individuals who were fluent in multiple languages were highly valued by religious institutions, particularly in Islam and Christianity, as they could travel to other communities and spread their respective religions on mission trips.

Ever since humans have been communicating in languages, interpreters have been around in varying degrees of formality to bridge the gap between villages, nations and entire continents. Although interpretation has only (relatively) recently become a professionally trained occupation, the role of interpreters remains as essential to human connection as ever.

In an article published in the International Journal of Language Studies, the type of interpretation work commonly done within local communities can often be classified as ‘community interpreting’ – a broad term used to define the type of interpretation that occurs within one locality. Community interpreting is designed to make the same resources accessible to people who speak many different languages within that same community.

Much of the professional interpretation that we do at Access 2 Interpreters could be called community interpreting. Formalized community interpretation, regulated with strict trainings and procedures, is used in legal and healthcare settings to ensure rigorous and consistent interpretation work.

Even as interpretation has evolved over the years and become a flourishing career path, you can still find interpreters all across the world, communicating across language barriers in private homes between relatives, at global summits, and in classrooms right in your town.

About the writer

Yana Schottenstein, founder of Access 2 Interpreters, contributed content to this article. Access 2 Interpreters is a leading translation and interpretation company in Columbus.

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