2020 has been a year of special days. Yesterday was one of them.
Many decades ago, in my Intro to Conference Interpreting class at Georgetown University, one of the moments that sticks with me to this day was when I learned about the origins of simultaneous interpretation during the Nuremburg Trials in 1945 and its lasting impact on global communication.
Seventy-five years ago, on November 20, 1945, the historic Nuremburg Trials began in order to charge members of the Nazi regime for crimes against humanity that they committed during World War II. The trials were truly groundbreaking. Yet another little-known groundbreaking event started on that exact same day, in that exact same place: the birth of modern simultaneous interpretation as a profession.
With the four languages of the 4 Allied powers—English, French, German, Russian—to be used at all times during what was going to be thousands of hours of trials, one question quickly became apparent: How?
How to tackle this potential linguistic nightmare in the most efficient and accurate way possible?
What was required was military-precision logistics and cutting-edge technology. So said, so done. Enter Colonel Leon Dostert, a foreign language expert for the US Army, who would later become a pioneer in machine translation, tasked with this monumental challenge. He suggested using simultaneous interpretation instead of the traditional consecutive interpretation method used in courts.
So, in collaboration with IBM, he put together a system of microphones and headsets that was developed to transmit all 4 languages at once, thus complying with the mandate of holding “fair and expeditious” trials.
Well, yesterday, November 20, 2020, the date didn’t even register with me until I was heading to bed. Why? Because I had just spent 10 hours working behind the scenes of 2 remote simultaneous interpretation events back-to-back, from my laptop and the comfort of my home (cause, you know, pandemic). Thanks to massive advances in technology, what was once a relatively cumbersome mix of cords and legions of manpower has now been reduced to a laptop, a smart phone, and an interpreting platform.
So, even though Lingovox Translation Studio didn’t “actively” celebrate this auspicious day, I am happy BEYOND WORDS to have inadvertently commemorated the birth of simultaneous interpretation with a historic moment of our own: using the latest in remote interpreting technology to provide our record number of simultaneous events in a single day. We’ve come a long way, baby.