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Interpreting: is it the same as Translation? And when did it appear?

Maybe not everyone knows that Translation and Interpreting are not the same thing, but what are they actually? And why are they different?

As the World has become more and more globalized, the need to overcome language barriers has come to be a priority for almost every country. However, translation and interpreting were not ‘invented’ after the beginning of globalization but they simply began to be more well-known and studied. In fact, translation and interpreting – intended in a general sense as activities to overcome language barriers in communication – exist since communication exists, so it is not a stretch to think that they are quite as old as oral communication, or better, they exist since the first men speaking two different languages first met.

Although, now a specification needs to be done: translation and interpreting are not the same thing. The main difference, but not the only one, between them consists in the fact that translation is written while interpreting is spoken. Bearing in mind this difference, it is now easier to understand how back we should go in History to look for the first ‘interpreting session’. Moreover, since written communication developed later than spoken language, it is possible to state that the first ‘interpreters’ appeared in History much earlier than translators.

When did interpreting first appeared?

Since, as we said before, written communication developed later in time than the oral one, it is difficult to find historic evidence (and it should be reminded that “History” was born together with writing) to prove how old interpreting really is. The oldest written evidence we have of the presence of interpreters in old times are some hieroglyphics in Elephantine, Egypt. Situated in the Nile river, the Elephantine island was at the centre of a wide trading network and for this reason it is easy to understand why in some its inhabitants, who were exposed to so many languages, were employed as dragomans (an old term standing for ‘interpreters’). However, this does not mean that interpreting was born in ancient Egypt: actually the Elephantine hieroglyphics are only the oldest evidence we have and we could reasonably think that the first interpreter was a nomad in prehistory who learnt a new language to have trading exchanges with another nomadic population.

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One thought on “Interpreting: is it the same as Translation? And when did it appear?
  • Virginie says:

    very interesting article ! I think this article is very useful because I didn’t know exactly the differences between these two words and practices. Moreover, knowing more about the origines and the history help us to understand better the context in which these practices are born.

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