I'm doing my dissertation on interpreting and while I've been trying to find out the history behind it, I've come across a few websites which say that interpreting dated back as far as the Ancient Egyptians as they had a symbol which meant "interpreter". I have tried everywhere I can think of to track down this symbol but I'm not having much luck, does anyone have any idea if this is true? Or where I can find out?

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately this is not going to be a "here it is" type of answer, but I found some information that might be helpful in your research.

First of all, apparently, even though interpreting is not a human activity that leaves many traces, the first mentions of such subject have been found in an hieroglyph that meant "interpreter" on some written material dated 3000 BC. I've tried searching for this kind of data but nothing turned up, only other articles repeating the same wording.

For this reason, I tried another course of action and I searched Ancient Egyptian dictionaries. I found An Egyptian hieroglyphic dictionary by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, which is freely available to the public for both online reading and download. The content is quite fascinating but if you search for "interpreter", two results will come up:

  1. enter image description here on page 2.
  2. enter image description here on page 106

A note: In the second image, there is an equal sign... Probably the expression after it is the word for interpreter, but I don't know how to confirm this.

Anyways, from a quick look, you'll notice that there is a symbol that seems to come up continuously. That one is that of a man kneeling:

enter image description here

I've searched this symbol and I've discovered that it's a Determinative and the concepts it refers to are "eat, drink, speak, tell, feel, think, love".

The word sDd1 (transcription: sDd) that contains it, means "to converse". I think you could start from here and see what comes up.

1: see ancient-egypt.org, choose "Man and his occupations", and then select the third symbol.

  • 2
    The man kneeling is a determinative, which gives some semantic information about the word to which it is attached without itself being pronounced.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 18:37
  • @ColinFine Thanks for the comment! I failed to mention this, but there was a resource I found where it was indeed listed among the determinatives. It's the same page where it is stated to mean "speak, tell" among the other things. I'll add that information to the answer. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 19:17
  • Indeed, it looks like the whole segment after the equals sign in the second one is the word for 'interpreter' (note that pretty much the same sequence starts the other entry).
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 16:18
  • @Sjiveru in the first picture you can see words separated by commas. All of them are the variants thought to mean interpreter. 6 variant on the first picture, 1 variant on the other picture.
    – Anixx
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 0:49

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