Interpreters are typically relegated to background characters in history, if they’re recognized at all. And unfortunately, female interpreters, like linguists from other marginalized groups, are even more likely to be overlooked. Yet they’ve always played an essential role in the conversations that shape our world. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the women who have bridged language gaps and worked to improve intercultural understandings across time and geography.
Sacagawea (United States)
A Lehmi-Shoshone woman from modern-day North Dakota, Sacagawea played a vital role in the exploration of the American West. In 1804, the 16-year-old joined the Lewis and Clark expedition and served as the group’s primary guide and interpreter. She established cultural contracts with other tribes as they traveled, and her knowledge of natural history was essential for the group’s survival. During the journey in 1805, she gave birth to her son, explorer Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. As a new mom, she became a symbol of peace to those who met her.
Elena Kidd (Russia)
in the early 1990s, a volatile era in post-Soviet Russia. According to Kidd, she had no trouble understanding his Southern accent but his long, convoluted sentences made him difficult to paraphrase. Today, she serves as a senior lecturer at the University of Bath and as a senior interpreter at the Finance Academy of the RF Government. She specializes in banking, finance, securities & exchanges, insurance, accounting, and auditing.
Banafsheh Keynoush (U.K. & Iran)
Serving as a simultaneous interpreter for four Iranian presidents is a major feat for anyone. But it’s especially impressive for the self-taught interpreter, Banafsheh Keynoush. Keynoush, who grew up in West London, returned to Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War and got her first taste of international relations. She later earned her B.A. and M.A. in English and taught herself how to interpret by listening to the BBC. (There were no interpreting schools in Iran at the time.) Today, she serves as an independent consultant and has advised the United Nations, International Labor Organization, The World Bank, and many other NGOs, think tanks, and international organizations.
Are there any other female interpreters, translators, or linguists you’d like to celebrate?
Give them a shout out in the comments!