History & Interpreting

History & Interpreting

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Nuremberg & IBM

Most people think real-time interpreting has been around since the dawn of mankind and language; however, that is inaccurate as the birth of simultaneous interpreting can be traced back to the Nuremberg Trials set up in November 1945 to document and prosecute nazi crimes. However, there is an earlier precedent to simultaneous interpreting, namely;

February 1st, 1933 which saw the first instance of real-time, seamless interpreting during the broadcast of Adolf Hitler’s speech after his appointment as Germany’s Chancellor when he proclaimed the Reich Government to the German people. His speech was translated into French for the entire nation to hear. It was an ominous sign of things to come as France heard the worlds of Hitler in off-mode and the subsequent French version of his inflammatory rhetoric. The transcript of his first radio address can be found in:


It is fair to say, therefore, that one of the most interesting and intellectually rewarding professions emerged from the ashes of one of the most inhumane and cruel chapters in History

Colonel Dostert, a linguist from the US Army became chief of the Translation Division at Nuremberg employing a score of interpreters to use the System

The most challenging part was the technology, which did not exist as we know it today.

It was IBM and its engineers who, on the top floor of the Nuremberg Court building, tested for the first time what was to become the Simultaneous Interpreting System that we know today. Using and combining telephone lines and exchanges they were able to set up a network in which all 4 languages –floor language plus additional 3- could be segregated and the renditions synchronized, saving enormous amount of time to the legal process. Nuremberg trials would have been four times as long without this ingenious system

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