Simultaneous interpreting is often the chosen mode of interpreting from one language to another, making it hard to believe that simultaneous interpreting equipment has been in use for fewer than 70 years.
But then again, maybe you shouldn’t believe it; according to some sources, simultaneous interpretation equipment has actually been around much longer than that.
The general belief is that simultaneous interpretation equipment was first used during the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, but others attest that it was invented almost 20 years earlier.
Confusion Over the Hushaphone
Simultaneous interpreting has been used for centuries, long before the Nuremberg Trials. In particular, chuchotage, which involves whispering interpretations, does not require modern technology at all. But the equipment that is most often associated with this type of interpreting got its start in the 1920s.
Edward Filene was an American businessman who collaborated with A. Gordon-Finlay, a British engineer, to create a system that could help with simultaneous interpretation. What they devised became known as telephonic interpreting because they relied on phone equipment for the original design.
Soon, the founder of IBM, Thomas Watson Sr., got involved in the development of simultaneous interpretation equipment, at one point calling it the International Translator System.
By 1926, a patent was given to the IBM Hushaphone Filene-Finley system, often simply called the Hushaphone. This nickname causes some to confuse it with the telephone attachment Hush-A-Phone, invented a few years earlier.
Early Use of Simultaneous Interpretation Equipment
In 1927, the Filene-Finlay system was utilized by the League of Nations at the International Labor Conference. However, the equipment itself was used with text that had already been translated so interpreters could read it during speeches. This means that the method of simultaneous interpretation was not used, though the equipment may have been.
After that, a few variations on simultaneous interpretation equipment surfaced. A different system, made by Siemens & Halske, was used at the International Conference on Energy in Berlin in 1930. In addition, at the XIII Session of the Executive Committee of Comintern in 1933, headsets and booths were some of the types of equipment used for the purposes of interpreting.
During the rest of that decade, additional conferences required the use of simultaneous interpretation equipment, including the XV International Physiology Congress and a conference in 1944 in Philadelphia.
We can conclude, then, that by the time of the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, simultaneous interpreting equipment had already been used in numerous prior situations, proving the equipment has a much longer history than most people believe.