Language services throughout history. The existence of various languages and civilizations makes linguistic services one of the oldest activities of humanity. As the different civilizations came into contact with each other, interpretation and translation services began to be necessary. Interpretation first, as it is an oral process that allows what is said in one language to be transferred to another, and translation later, once writing and the need to pass a written text in one language to another have arisen.
Despite how “ancient” language services may be, for a long time this profession was not recognized as such, nor was it given the importance it has now. This was seen as a collateral service, which did not allow an exhaustive study of its role throughout history. Its recognition was progressive, and it is closely linked to the increasingly frequent, transcendent and formal interaction between individuals and societies with different languages. It is not until the modern era, around 1950, with the Nuremberg Trials and the rise of international organizations, including the United Nations, that language services gain recognition as an academic specialty.
As mentioned above, it is not easy to identify the origins of this profession. In the great empires of antiquity, the translator or interpreter played an almost anonymous role. Despite these limitations, here are some facts that show its appearance at different times in human history:
Language services in ancient civilizations:
There are testimonies of linguistic mediators for more than 5,000 years, playing important roles in Egypt and Assyria, whether as commercial guides, conquest expeditions or war conflicts and in government administration. In ancient Egypt, the governors of the bordering regions with Sudan were called, with the title of “Chief of Interpreters”, for their role in the expeditions that were made to new lands.
Initially linguistic intermediation was assigned to slaves or hostages, but over time it began to designate children of the Egyptian nobility, educated abroad or the children of foreign princes. There is also a lot of evidence of language services in ancient Greece and Rome. Although in Greece they did not enjoy the language services as much, since the Greeks considered themselves superior to other cultures or subjugated peoples, in the case of Rome they did play a key role in the construction of the Empire, greatly facilitating the relationship with the colonies and lands conquered.
Definitely one of the factors that gave greater impetus to translation activity was faith, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. When Hebrew disappeared as the main religious language, and Greek and Roman cultures took power, great interest was generated in translating religious texts. Then the first Greek translations of Old Testament books are given, and later to Latin by the Romans. Undoubtedly, the Bible has been the most important text in the growth of translation. It has been translated into multiple languages. In the fourth century, the most widespread version was made, which was called the Vulgate, made by Saint Jerome, patron saint of translators, and which was used for centuries in the Christian religion.
It is important to mention the expansion of the Arab empire, during the Middle Ages and up to the 15th century, as a factor that contributed to linguistic services through the translation of scientific or philosophical texts from Greek. It was during the Arab reign in the Iberian Peninsula when there was a golden period for translation.
The role of the interpreter was also crucial in the conquest of the New World. During this time one of the first interpreters of the time is known: Malinche. The story goes that this Aztec princess, who spoke both Mayan and Nahuatl, was handed over to the conqueror Hernán Cortés after the battle of Centla. Thanks to her bilingualism, she was an interpreter, counselor and intermediary for Cortés and helped in the process of Moctezuma’s accusation and his subsequent execution.
Language services in the Modern and Contemporary Age:
In the fifteenth century, with the arrival of the printing press, translation experienced an enormous boost that continues to this day. Until the 18th century and the so-called Peace of Westphalia, Latin was the hegemonic language of this time, it is from then on that French became the official language of diplomacy until the end of the First World War. Already in the 19th century, the United States began to reveal itself as a great economic power, and English was gaining ground. As a consequence, the importance of interpreters was increased in the political and economic spheres, and for the first time they ceased to be anonymous.
The interwar period:
This period will be the prelude and, therefore, the origin of language services as they are currently known. The role of the conference interpreter emerged and the relevance of the profession reached its historical peak. Its genesis, therefore, was in the First World War. At this time, a need arose for people who could serve as liaisons between military units that spoke different languages. War interpreters appeared, whose role was crucial in the course of the war. Some of them acted as mediators at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, in which the representatives of the four victorious countries met to discuss a series of issues that culminated in the well-known Treaty of Versailles and the founding of the Society of nations
In these meetings, the English and French languages were considered official, and the interpreters were in charge of transmitting the speeches of the speakers through consecutive interpretation. The role of these interpreters was crucial, and for the first time their names went down in history and the importance of the interpreter’s trade was raised. One of them, Antoine Velleman, later founded the Geneva School of Interpreters, and another, Jean Herbert, was in charge of recruiting the first team of professional interpreters for the first General Assembly of the then League of Nations.
In 1926, moreover, the first patent for simultaneous interpretation equipment appeared. The system was called “Hushaphone Filene-Finley IBM” and was used for the first time in the International Labor Conference of 1927. Later, in the assemblies of the League of Nations of 1931 and 1932, an attempt was made to verify the validity of the interpretation process. simultaneously, although the system will not finish taking shape until ten years later.
The Nuremberg Trials and simultaneous interpretation:
After the end of World War II, the allied nations launched a series of legal proceedings with the aim of determining and punishing the responsibilities of leaders, officials and collaborators of Hitler’s National Socialist regime. In this process, known as the Nuremberg Trials, the four winning countries and the losing country participated: the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France on the one hand, and Germany on the other. It is not surprising that, given such linguistic diversity, the effectiveness of consecutive interpreting was questioned, which also predicts an infinite time duration. It was therefore proposed to use the method of simultaneous interpretation, which would ultimately be chosen and would give rise to the already well-known job of conference interpreter. Evidently, from then until now, the evolution and development of this type of interpretation has been amazing, not only in terms of the elements used today to carry out this work (booths, microphones, equipment), but also in terms of the preparation, training and professionalism of the interpreters. Now, globalization and the internet have brought translation and interpreting in tools to streamline it into a complex age where professionalization is more important than ever.