Syntactic processing in sight translation by professional and trainee interpreters: Professionals are more time-efficient while trainees view the source text less

Agnieszka Chmiel and Agnieszka Lijewska
Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

The study examines how professional and trainee interpreters process syntax in sight translation. We asked 24 professionals and 15 trainees to sight translate sentences with subject-relative clauses and more difficult object-relative clauses while measuring translation accuracy, eye movements and translation durations. We found that trainees took longer to achieve similar translation accuracy as professionals and viewed the source text less than professionals to avoid interference, especially when reading more difficult object-relative sentences. Syntactic manipulation modulated translation and viewing times: participants took longer to translate object-relative sentences but viewed them less in order to avoid interference in target language reformulations. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to show that reading measures in sight translation should be analysed together with translation times to explain complex reading patterns. It also proposes a new measure, percentage of dwell time, as an index of interference avoidance.

Publication history
Table of contents

When performing sight translation interpreters have to obtain input by reading a text in the visual modality in order to express its meaning orally. Unlike simultaneous interpreting, which is speaker-paced, sight translation is interpreter-paced (Agrifoglio 2004). However, the goal is the same – the target text should reach the target audience with no delay. Just as in simultaneous interpreting, when faced with a written text interpreters have to complete the necessary syntactic reformulation in order to provide a natural-sounding target text. However, unlike in simultaneous interpreting, in sight translation the source text is always available in front of the interpreter’s eyes. The presence of the source text is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it reduces the memory load because all the information is available; however, on the other hand, it might lead to interference because of the constant visual access to the verbal form of the source text. It may also entail another disadvantage, namely divided attention. The transient nature of the source text in simultaneous interpreting naturally forces attention away from the source text. In sight translation, attention is divided between the ever-present source text and the emerging target text. It seems that experience should make interpreters more immune to interference and should lead to more restructuring, resulting in a more natural target text. Thanks to the widespread use of modern process research methods such as eye-tracking, we can now tap into the reading and processing of text in sight translation by tracking the eye movements of the interpreters. In the present study, we asked professional and trainee interpreters to perform sight translation. The participants’ eye movements and sight translation performance were recorded to examine how the participants cope with syntactic processing while completing the task. We operationalised syntactic processing through sentences including subject-relative and object-relative clauses. We expected to find an effect of experience, that is, professional interpreters being more efficient and successful in syntactic processing than trainee interpreters, and an effect of syntactic complexity, with more complex syntactic structures entailing longer viewing times and longer translation durations than less complex structures. The novel contribution of this study is the application of a combination of common eye-tracking measures and translation durations to explain the participants’ reading patterns in sight translation. We also propose a new eye-tracking measure, percentage of dwell time, which could help to interpret data patterns recorded when eye-tracking the process of sight translation.

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