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Anticipation as a strategy during simultaneous interpreting from German into English

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In order to cope with the multiplicity and simultaneity of efforts involved in the complex cognitive task of simultaneous interpreting (the oral translation of speech from one language into another as the speech unfolds), interpreters often strategically anticipate words, ideas and messages in the input. The strategic dimension of anticipation is emphasized during simultaneous interpreting between two languages with different syntactic structures, such as German, a head-final language, and English, a head-initial language. Anticipation can be part of any communicative situation. As such it has been dealt with to a great extent in studies on on-line language processing involving reading and listening. In this context, it has been found that higher-level semantic and syntactic information provided by the context as a whole, i.e. contextual constraint, act as linguistic cues to anticipation (Frisson et al. 2005), on the one hand. On the other hand, McDonald and Shillcock (2003b) established that it is the lower- level transitional probability between words or the statistical likelihood with which words follow or preceded one another in context that affects anticipation during on-line language processing.

My aim is to investigate the type of linguistic cues that cause strategic anticipation to happen. Moreover, I would like to find out what kinds of processes underlie anticipation, i.e. ‘what information is used when’ during on-line language processing which causes anticipation to occur? These questions were addressed in three different tasks: a reading task in German, which was performed off-line; an on-line speech repetition task, i.e. shadowing, in German; and a simultaneous interpreting task from German into English, involving on-line spoken language processing. Both native speakers of German and native speakers of English who speak German at an advanced level participated in the experiments. A 2×2 experimental design was employed in order to investigate the effect of contextual constraint and transitional probability on anticipation. An effect of both contextual constraint and transitional probability was found during reading, although the effect of transitional probability was much stronger. Shadowing revealed an effect of both linguistic cues to anticipation. Finally, during SI there was a very strong effect of contextual constraint but no effect of transitional probability on anticipation. Consequently, while lower-level transitional probability affects anticipation during off-line, this effect seems to be overridden by the effect of higher-level contextual constraint during SI as an on-line language processing task. It was concluded that contextual constraint acts as a stronger cue to strategic anticipation than transitional probability. The results obtained will be discussed comparing the different tasks at hand. Important similarities and differences will be shown between the native and the non- native group of participants. The implications of these results will be considered for simultaneous interpreting with the aim of increasing interpreting accuracy and consequently improving the quality of the product of interpreting.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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