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This is a general article on interpretation. See Interpretation in psychotherapy for clinical context and psychoanalytic interpretation for the narrower application of psychoanalytic ideas

Interpretation, or interpreting, is an activity that consists of establishing, either simultaneously (known as simultaneous interpretation) or consecutively (known as consecutive interpretation), oral or gestural communications between two or more speakers who are not able to use the same set of symbols. By definition it is available as a method only in those cases where there is a need for interpretation - if an object (of art, of speech, etc.) is obvious to begin with, it cannot draw an interpretation. In any case the term interpretation is ambiguous, as it may refer to both an ongoing process and a result.

Interpretation is a term used in informal education settings to describe any communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of cultural and natural heritage through first hand involvement with an object, artifact, landscape or site.

An interpretation can be the part of a presentation or portrayal of information altered in order to conform to a specific set of symbols. This may be a spoken, written, pictorial, mathematical, sculptural, cinematic, geometric or any other form of language. The purpose of interpretation would normally be to increase the possibility of understanding, but sometimes, as in propaganda or brainwashing, the purpose may be to evade understanding and increase confusion.

The interpretation of texts began as early as ancient Greece, in the time of the early philosophers and poets. By the time of Plato, in regards to education, studying the interpretation of Greek poetry was a foundation of learning.

Interpretation is a term used in informal education settings to describe any communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of cultural and natural heritage through first hand involvement with an object, artifact, landscape or site. This is primarily known as heritage interpretation.

An interpretation can be the part of a presentation or portrayal of information altered in order to conform to a specific set of symbols. This may be a spoken, written, pictorial, mathematical, sculptural, cinematic, geometric or any other form of language. These symbols or signifiers may evoke quite complex signifieds where there is cross-referencing , where the reader consciously or unconsciously places the text in broader frames of experience and knowledge. The purpose of interpretation would normally be to increase the possibility of understanding, but sometimes, as in propaganda or brainwashing, the purpose may be to evade understanding and increase confusion.

There are three things that allow interpretation to occur, and these are all interlinked and interdependable. These three factors are the producer, the text and the receiver. Through the act of interpretation the receiver is the person creating meaning, and the intended meaning of the textfor the producer is often overlooked or ignored. It is the receiver who produces meaning, by participating in a complexity of socially constructed and enforced practices. From this, interpretation produces values and meanings that are outcomes of an active process and that process always occurs within specific cultural and political contexts and has a direct link to the world that the receiver lives in.


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  • Barry, P 2002, Beginning theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory, 2nd ed., Manchester University, Manchester and New York.
  • Blazer, A 2005, ‘Interpretive theory: the new criticism to the present’, viewed April 24, 2006, from http://www.louisville.edu/~a0blaz01.
  • Fuery, P & Mansfield, N 2000, Cultural studies and critical theory, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.
  • Hancher, M 1970, ‘The science of interpretation, the art of interpretation’, MLN, vol.85, no.6, pp.791-802, (online JSTOR).
  • McFly Encyclopedia, 2006, ‘Hermeneutics’, viewed April 12, 2006, from http://en.mcfly.org/hermeneutics

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