In the past when deaf people had no opportunity to learn to read, write or even speak, the aid of ad hoc ‘interpreters’ was the only means available to communicate with the hearing. This paper seeks to inform practitioners and researchers of spoken language interpreting a little about the historical evolution of interpreting for deaf individuals, about deafness, sign language use, historical developments in deaf education and the emergence of professional sign language interpreting.
Among the different titles the Princes of Elephantine had, that of “overseers of dragomans” has drawn the attention of researchers in the history of interpretation. This title has always appeared as a recognition of the status and importance interpreters enjoyed in Ancient Egypt. The denomination “overseer of dragomans” is the translation that Sir Alan Gardiner proposed of inscriptions found in different regions of Ancient Egypt, among which the island of Elephantine. In 1960, Goedicke criticised Gardiner’s translation on the basis of historical and linguistic reasons. His objections, unknown to the Interpreting Studies community until today, seem to deny the role of the Princes of Elephantine as “overseers of dragomans”.