Simultaneous interpretation has long history. It was always there as whispering interpretation, when the interpreter is literally saying interpretation into your ear. But the XXth century brought innovations and inventions that made the profession what it is today. Here are 4 people at the inception of it all.
Alan Gordon Finlay, an army engineer and a prolific inventor, he was instrumental in developing the first set of equipment for what later became simultaneous interpretation. Born in 1890 in Australia, of Scottish descent, he was brought up in Switzerland and worked – among other places – at the League of Nations. Although the actual sequence of events has been lost in the sands of time, it is quite possible that he was the first to come up with this original use of existing telephonic equipment for language interpretation and is the actual inventor of the system.
Edward Filene, an American businessman and philanthropist, first mentions simultaneous interpretation in writing as early as 1925. Jointly with Alan Gordon Finlay, he co-designs the system originally called “the Filene-Finlay simultaneous translator.” He later attempts to commercialize it with little success, patents it in 1926 and sells it to the IBM. The system was first used at the League of Nations during the International Labor Conference in 1927 to read pre-translated texts.
André Kaminker, a legend in language interpretation. He was said to have had photographic memory and could listen to a speech for an hour and reproduce it in a different language without notes. In 1934 he simultaneously interpreted Hitler’s speech at Nuremberg for French radio. Even though he was extremely opposed to introducing simultaneous interpretation in the United Nations after WWII, ironically, he, apparently, was the first person who tried to do simultaneous interpretation as we know it today: live from an audio feed and not reading a pre-translated text as it had been before the Nuremberg speech.
Leon Dostert, a US Army Colonel, was born in France in 1904 and grew up as an orphan. He studied languages and diplomacy at Georgetown University and later taught there. A staff officer and interpreter for Gen. Eisenhower, he assembled a team of interpreters for the Nuremberg trials after WWII. It was the first large scale use of simultaneous interpretation. Later in life he promoted simultaneous interpretation at the United Nations and was very interested in machine translation. He even predicted that in 3-5 years “interlingual meaning conversion by electronic process in important functional areas of several languages may well be an accomplished fact.”
When you listen to a simultaneous interpreter next time, remember all the time and effort that went into creating this challenging but extremely satisfying and fascinating profession!