Where did "godly ears" come from?

Isn’t it exciting to uncover historical connections? Since Nimdzi specializes in the interpreting landscape, I was curious about the origins of the word “interpreter” and how it evolved.

Interpreters have been around forever! Back in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia and Indian subcontinent, they used pros over 4,500 years ago to translate between languages and cultures. The concept has existed in writing since the beginning of recorded history.

The ancient Sumerians and Akkadians called them things like:

  • “targumannu” – Akkadian for “interpreter”. Comes from their word “targumanu” meaning “to translate“. One of the earliest words for interpreter. Notice the Arabic مترجم [mutarjim].
  • “atkalu la sinati” – Sumerian for “man of the mouth for different languages”.
  • “ilum epišu” – Akkadian meaning “godly ear“.
  • “lu-rum” or “lú-rum” – A Sumerian symbol used to mean interpreter or envoy in economic records.

Let’s focus on languages originating in Europe. In English, the word “interpreter” comes from the Latin word “interpres” meaning “an expounder, interpreter”. The Latin word is derived from “inter” meaning “between” and “pres” meaning “before”. The word referred to someone who acted as a “go-between” to communicate and translate conversations between two parties. Later, the meaning expanded to refer to someone who explains any complex or foreign concepts, not just languages.

Explore the visual to see shifts, context and notes for “interpterer” in most European languages.

The post was written by Roman Civin, Nimdzi's Head of Solutions. If you wish to learn more, reach out to Roman at email protected.