The earliest depiction of an interpreter is found on the so-called “interpreter relief” from the tomb of pharaoh Horemheb in Memphis dating back to 1330 B.C. The interpreter is shown as a split personality – to the left he turns towards the pharaoh and to the right to the petitioners.
The earliest written mention of interpreters, however, is found in the Bible (1st Moses 42, 23): “And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter”.
Usually interpreters complete a specialist course of studies of several years with comprehensive practical exercise.
Usually interpreters do NOT speak 10 or 15 languages as some people believe. Instead, they focus on a few languages with excellent command also in various technical fields (e.g. medicine, technology, law, economics, etc) to render even complex matters. Moreover, languages breath and develop – and interpreters must stay up to speed, which becomes more difficult with an increasing number of languages.
Usually yes. As interpreters we are also familiar with the most diverse dialects and accents and can usually follow easily. But interpreters always depend on the speaker’s quality of presentation – if the speaker is erratic, unconcentrated, unclear or confused, it is sometimes a challenge even for interpreters.
This is usually not the case. Most simultaneous and conference interpreters completed a specialist course of studies so that they can even comprehend the most difficult matters due to their expertise, experience, and general knowledge. It seems to be more likely for speakers to blame interpreters when trying to make excuses…. like emperor Justin II in Constantinople in 567 A.D. – he blamed the interpreters for his trouble with the Persians.
Speech is redundant. There are always several ways to express the same matter in other words. Therefore, interpretation hardly ever depends on a single word. Moreover, interpreters always prepare in-depth for each assignment to make themselves familiar with the technical terms and ensure the highest quality.
All interpreters are native speakers – which only means that they have a mother tongue, which can be English, German, French as well as any other language. Important for interpreters is that they do not only have the skills in one language (i.e. their mother tongue), but both in the source and the target language. For if you do not understand the source language, it will not help if you are in perfect command of the target language – interpretation will still not be possible.
No. Most interpreters completed a comprehensive course of studies in interpreting. During this time, they acquire all the skills necessary for this profession. Their mother tongue always serves as a reference frame, which may be difficult for people who are brought up bilingually as there is no clear frame of reference and the cross-connection between the languages, which is so important in interpreting, may not be a shortcut.
Most interpreters are at home in several topics and possess broad knowledge and comprehensive expertise in them. Hardly any interpreter exclusively focuses on a single technical field.
Even today interpreters are still in demand. It is a myth that everybody nowadays spoke English. In fact, many people only have little or no command of English and even though they may feel confident in small talk and basic conversation, it may not suffice for complex matters and technical details. Therefore, interpreters today are usually assigned for complex and highly specialised topics.
As soon as simultaneous interpretation is required, a minimum of two interpreters per language is a must. This is due to the high level of concentration required during interpretation so that interpreters take turns every 15 to 20 minutes. This not only helps keep up the high level of quality during interpretation but also protects the interpreters’ health and helps maintain their working power.
Yes. Interpretation without understanding the exact context is simply not possible.
Something like a literal or word by word translation does not exist. Language is always expression of different mentalities, perceptions, and emotions relative to the same matter. This is what interpreters try to communicate beyond the mere content. Moreover, there are language, expression, and grammar rules to be obeyed so that a “literal” and at the same time meaningful translation is not possible.
That interpreters would only have to listen, is unfortunately not true. During their work interpreters follow the speaker’s nonverbal communication closely to take in additional information, which well exceeds the spoken word. Therefore, the unobstructed view of the speaker is indispensable.
"Machines do words. Interpreters and translators do language."
(of unknown origin)
"Translation is the art of existing in two languages at once."
(of unknown origin)
"Being a native speaker is not a profession. Being a translator is."
(of unknown origin)
“It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.”
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections
“I just enjoy translating, it's like opening one's mouth and hearing someone else's voice emerge.”
Iris Murdoch, philosopher and writer
"Without translation I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world."
Italo Calvino, Italian Journalist and Writer
“Who can say if the thoughts you have in your mind as you read these words are the same thoughts I had in my mind as I typed them? We are different, you and I, and the qualia of our consciousnesses are as divergent as two stars at the ends of the uni
Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
"Ist es nicht sonderbar, daß eine wörtliche Übersetzung fast immer eine schlechte ist? Und doch läßt sich alles gut übersetzen. Man sieht hieraus, wie viel es sagen will, eine Sprache ganz verstehen; es heißt, das Volk ganz kennen, das sie spricht."
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), deutscher Aphoristiker und Physiker. Quelle: Aus den „Sudelbüchern“, 1800-1806
„Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt“.
"Wirklich übersetzen heißt: etwas, das in einer andern Sprache gesprochen ist, seiner Sprache anpassen."
Martin Luther (1483-1546), deutscher Theologe, Reformator und Übersetzer. Quelle: „Tischreden“