In Interpreting

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year. Thanksgiving is rooted in the historic cooperation between the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts and the local residents, the Wampanoag tribe. History tells us that the Wampanoag helped the settlers survive their first winter when the food they brought from England ran out. The tribe taught the Pilgrims to fish and farm, hunt and gather, and, in general, deal with the geography and weather conditions in the region.

Following a strong harvest, the Pilgrims celebrated and gave thanks to the tribe with a three-day harvest feast (which may or may not have included turkey). In remembrance of this historic feast, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. We gather each year with friends and family to share a feast and give thanks for the good times and for the relationships that see us all through the tough times.

This story is taught to every American schoolchild and frequently recounted around the Thanksgiving dinner table. But one central character is sometimes overlooked: Tisquantum, aka “Squanto.”

Who was Squanto?

Unsurprisingly, the Pilgrims spoke English. The Wampanoag tribe spoke Wopanaotooaok. So how did these incredibly diverse peoples communicate so effectively? Enter Squanto, English-Wopanaotooaok interpreter.

Squanto was a native of the Patuxet. The Patuxet tribe belonged to the Wampanoag confederation living at present-day Plymouth. Thomas Hunt – an unsavory and disloyal business associate of John Smith (famous for being rescued by Pocahontas) – betrayed the Patuxet, kidnapping several members, including Squanto. Hunt sold Squanto his fellow tribesmen into slavery in Spain. Understandably, this outraged the tribe, ending good relations and profitable trading relationships.

Fortunately, some local friars discovered Squanto and several of his compatriots and rescued them from slavery. A free man, Squanto made his way to England, where he learned English. The Newfoundland Company offered him work as an interpreter.  The Company returned to the “New World” with Squanto to attempt to negotiate peace with the tribe. Sadly, the effort failed. Squanto remained in America, joining the Wampanoag tribe just in time for the arrival of the Mayflower.

Interpreting Helped Create Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims were incredibly fortunate that the Wampanoag counted Squanto amongst their number. Squanto acted as one of the first interpreters between Native Americans and English settlers. Through Squanto, the Pilgrims negotiated peace, resulting in the much-needed help the Pilgrims needed to survive that first, difficult winter.

The real-life story has a few extra twists and turns that deviate a bit from the romanticized version we learned as children. However, in the end, Squanto’s interpreting skills were central to creating the peace and cooperation between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims that resulted in the First Thanksgiving.

Love Thanksgiving? Thank an Interpreter!

So, this year, as you get ready to dig into turkey, dressing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce, remember to be thankful for interpreters. Without an interpreter, Thanksgiving might not exist.

Vocalink Global is thankful for its skilled team of interpreters and translators. These professionals put their linguistic skills to work every day. Our interpreters and translators help our clients communicate with their patients, customers, buyers, employees, and business associates across language and culture.

Happy Thanksgiving!







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