Interpreting means explaining something, to make the meaning clear. It is used every day, by everyone, making sense of what is perceived.
In the language business, a differentiation is made between translating the written word (= translation) and translating the spoken word (= interpreting). In general use there is often not much differentiation. This was then case when the words entered the English language, and is the case today.
The very first use of the word interpreting in English is the Wycliff translation of the Bible in 1382 which cites Peter who makes a wise comment that prophecies do not come true as a result of interpretation.
The first time the word is used in terms of the spoken word is again a Bible translation (this time the Tyndale version in 1562). The reference describes how foreigners visiting Jerusalem were able to understand those whom the Holy Spirit blessed with the ability to speak in foreign languages.
Yet another early translation of the Bible (the Coverdale version in 1535) makes use of the term in a description of Joseph talking to his brothers. Joseph, who had been separated for many years from his family and since become an Egyptian ruler, the right hand of Pharaoh, hid his identity from his brothers who did not understand him because “he spake to them by an interpreter”.
Simultaneous interpretation as a profession is relatively new. For many years, international conferences took place in the language of diplomats – French. It was the Peace Conference held in 1919 that changed this. Ironically enough the location was Paris where the League of Nations gave English the status as its second official language. Initially consecutive interpretation was used (i.e. one delegate speaks and then the interpreter interprets; then the delegate speaks again and the interpreter interprets again, in essence doubling the length of any meeting). It did not take long before simultaneous interpretation equipment was developed and deployed. This cut back the length of conferences and a new career was born – the professional interpreter.
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