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Infos about the IBM Wireless Translation System

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Heribert Jung
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24.Aug.20 20:03
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IBM Archives - Exhibits - IBM special products (vol. 1):
IBM Wireless Translation System

IBM founder Thomas J. Watson had a long-standing personal interest in solving problems associated with the use of multiple languages in international meetings, and he put his company's resources to work on developing a solution. The ultimate result was the IBM Wireless Translation System (sometimes referred to as the Simultaneous Interpretation System).

As part of his efforts to bring about global understanding and "World Peace Through World Trade," Thomas Watson made this equipment available without charge to international meetings. Between 1947 and 1953, for example, the IBM Wireless Translation System was used in 258 international meetings in 120 cities -- from Amsterdam to Zurich -- in 34 countries.

Among the organizations supported by IBM's Wireless Translation System were the International Olympic Games Committee, International Red Cross and the United Nations.

Interpreters' section at the Nuremberg trial

The Nuremberg Trials employed four official languages: English, French, German and Russian. To address the complex linguistic issues that clouded over the proceedings, interpretation and translation departments had to be established. However, it was feared that consecutive interpretation would slow down the proceedings significantly. What is therefore unique in both the Nuremberg tribunals and history of the interpretation profession was the introduction of an entirely new technique, extempore simultaneous interpretation.
This technique of interpretation requires the interpreter to listen to a speaker in a source  language and orally translate that speech into another language in real-time, that is, simultaneously, through headsets and microphones. Interpreters were split into four sections, one for each official language, with three interpreters per section working from the other three languages into the fourth (their mother tongue). For instance, the English booth consisted of three interpreters, one working from German into English, one working from French, and one from Russian, etc.

The equipment used to establish this system was provided by IBM and included an elaborate setup of cables that were hooked up to headsets and single earphones directly from the four interpreting booths (often referred to as "the aquarium"). Four channels existed for each working language, as well as a root channel for the proceedings without interpretation. The switching of channels was controlled by a setup at each table in which the listener merely had to turn a dial to switch between languages. People tripping over the floor-laid cables often led to the headsets getting disconnected, with several hours at a time sometimes being taken to repair the problem and continue with the trials.

Interpreting Device

Despite the extensive trial and error, without the interpretation system the trials would not have been possible and in turn, revolutionized the way multilingual issues were addressed in tribunals and conferences.

Today, all major international organizations, as well as any conference or government that uses more than one official language, uses extempore simultaneous interpretation. Notable bodies include the Parliament of Kosovo with three official languages, the Parliament of Canada with two official languages, the Parliament of South Africa with eleven official languages, the European Union with twenty-four official languages, and the United Nations with six official working languages.

This article was edited 24.Aug.20 20:04 by Heribert Jung .