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Interesting information re the Nuremberg trials of 1945
#1
The multilingual Nuremberg trial of 22 major Nazi war criminals was a pivotal point in legal history. Its 403 open sessions, between November 3, 1945 and October 1, 1946, were conducted simultaneously in English, Russian, French and German -- the first and last time such a trial was conducted.

Interpreters deal with spoken words, while translators work with written texts. The interpreter essentially has to anticipate the substance of the German speaker's sentence because the verb is often at the end, rather than in the middle like most English sentences.

Most courtrooms employ consecutive interpretation -- back-and-forth alternating exchanges between a speaker and the interpreter. That was not feasible in Nuremberg, with four languages, 22 defendants and their attorneys, four prosecutors, four judges, and countless witnesses and documents.

The tribunal needed simultaneous interpreters, hundreds of them, capable of listening to a speaker and converting his language into another which the interpreter speaks into a microphone at the same time, like a duet in two languages. Many professional interpreters flatly refused the job.

Every word spoken in the International Tribunal was channeled into hundreds of headsets worn by everybody in the courtroom, including visitors. Each headset wearer could dial any language channel they preferred -- English, Russian, French or German. A fifth channel carried the original, uninterpreted voice audio. IBM provided the technology and installation free.

The courtroom itself had six microphones, one each for the four judges, plus the witness stand and the speaker podium used by the prosecutors and presenters. Their audo outputs were fed into the interpreter booths.

Four side-by-side glass booths housed the interpreter teams. The English channel output was fed by three different speakers -- German-to-English, Russian-to-English, and French-to-English, or the original English audio.

The Russian channel interpreted English-to-Russian, French-to-Russian, and German-to-Russian. The French channel transmitted English-to-French, German-to-French, and Russian-to-French. The German channel supplied English-to-German, French-to-German, and Russian-to-German.

Only one interpreter at a time spoke in a booth, although four interpreters were speaking simultaneously in different languages from the four booths.

A total of 108 people worked in each shift:12 interpreters and nine stenographers for each language. Reportedly, 500 men and women were recruited from many different sources, then organized into teams directed by Colonel Leon Dostert (General Eisenhower's official interpreter) and Commander Alfred Steer.

Two teams alternated shifts in the courtroom. A third standby team waited in a separate room, listening to the proceedings. Another team stood by for witnesses speaking other languages, i.e., Yiddish, Polish, Ukranian, Czech, snd Hungarian.

A timing system was devised to slow down speakers who talked too fast for the interpreters. A flashing yellow light indicated "slow down," and a red light ordered the speaker to stop and repeat what he had just said until the interpreter caught up. The maximum pace was dictation speed -- 60 words per second. The lawyers were not thrilled.

The system was not perfect, but it worked. In fact, it was chosen by the United Nations and is used today by countless international conferences.
"You can be young without money but you can't be old without money"
Maggie the Cat from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." by Tennessee Williams
#2
I am not a professional interpreter but many years ago when I worked in tourism, I found myself in a city that had no English speaking guides and I was forced in to do simultaneous interpretation. I specifically asked the Spanish speaking guide to speak slowly and not to include too many names and dates.

He started off speaking sixteen to the dozen and flung half a dozen names and dates at me. I did my best but after two hours (!) I had to ask him to stop. I couldn't go on. I was so exhaused that what he was saying was going in to my ears and was processed by my brain but I couldn't his words in to English.

I understand that UN interpreters do very short shifts of 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Heavens knows what would happen if they were to do two hours. My sympathy would have gone out to those professionals who refused the work at Nuremberg.
"You can be young without money but you can't be old without money"
Maggie the Cat from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." by Tennessee Williams


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