The effect of cognitive load on temporal and disfluency patterns of speech: Evidence from consecutive interpreting and sight translation

Judit Bóna and Mária Bakti

This paper investigates how variation in the complexity of speech tasks is reflected in the temporal characteristics and disfluency patterns of speech. We examined temporal characteristics (speech rate, global articulation rate, ratio of pauses, frequency of pauses, and mean duration of pauses) and disfluency markers (overall frequency of disfluencies; frequency of filled pauses, filler words, whole-word repetitions, part-word repetitions, broken words, prolonged sounds, and revisions; frequency of disfluency clusters) in four speech production tasks (consecutive interpreting, sight translation, spontaneous speech and extemporaneous speech) with twelve speakers.

Our hypothesis, according to which the examined parameters will differ across the four tasks, was partly confirmed by the data; even though not all speech tasks differed significantly in all the examined parameters, our investigation revealed that there were significant differences between some tasks in four parameters, and between others in nine out of the fourteen parameters examined. Our data also suggest that in terms of the temporal characteristics and disfluency markers examined, the four tasks can be represented on a continuum based on the cognitive load associated with each task. At one end of the continuum and generating the least cognitive load is spontaneous speech, and at the other, generating the most cognitive load, is sight translation.

Publication history
Table of contents

The processes of translation and interpreting are characterized by a high degree of complexity (Hurtado Albir and Alves 2009, 54; Muñoz Martín 2010, 177; Gile 2015, 48). However, there are several constraints on researching the cognitive components of translation and interpreting, including the fact that these processes cannot be holistically observed, and that there are several, interconnected abilities and skills involved in these processes (Hurtado Albir and Alves 2009, 54).

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Agrifoglio, Marjorie
2004 “Sight Translation and Interpreting: A Comparative Analysis of Constraints and Failures.” Interpreting 6 (1): 43–67. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Boersma, Paul, and David Weenink
2008Praat: Doing phonetics by computer (Version 5.0.1). Accessed June 26, 2020. http://​www​.fon​.hum​.uva​.nl​/praat​/download​_win​.html
Bóna, Judit
2014 “Temporal Characteristics of Speech: The Effect of Age and Speech Style.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 136 (2): EL116–EL121. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Bóna, Judit, and Mária Bakti
2014 “A beszédtervezés és- kivitelezés temporális sajátosságai szinkrontolmácsok beszédprodukcióiban [Temporal characteristics of speech planning and execution in the speech production of simultaneous interpreters].” Fordítástudomány 41 (1): 16–28.Google Scholar
Chen, Sijia
2017 “The Construct of Cognitive Load in Interpreting and its Measurement.” Perspectives 25 (4): 640–657. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Duchin, Sandra W., and Edward D. Mysak
1987 “Disfluency and Rate Characteristics of Young Adult, Middle-aged, and Older Males.” Journal of Communication Disorders 20 (3): 245–257. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Englund Dimitrova, Brigitta, and Elisabet Tiselius
2016 “Cognitive Aspects of Community Interpreting: Toward a Process Model.” In Reembedding Translation Process Research, edited by Ricardo Muñoz Martín, 195–214. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Fletcher, Janet
2010 “The Prosody of Speech: Timing and Rhythm.” In The Handbook of Phonetic Sciences, edited by William J. Hardcastle, John Laver, and Fiona E. Gibbon, 521–602. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gile, Daniel
1995Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2015 “The Contributions of Cognitive Psychology and Psycholinguistics to Conference Interpreting: A Critical Analysis.” In Psycholinguistic and Cognitive Inquiries into Translation and Interpreting, edited by Aline Ferreira and John W. Schwieter, 41–64. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Goldman-Eisler, Frieda
1968Psycholinguistics: Experiments in Spontaneous Speech. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Gósy, Mária
2005Pszicholingvisztika [Psycholinguistics]. Budapest: Osiris.Google Scholar
2007 “Disfluencies and Self-monitoring.” Govor 24 (2): 91–110.Google Scholar
2012 “Sorozatmegakadások mintázata a spontán beszédben [Complex disfluencies in spontaneous speech].” Beszédkutatás 20: 107–131.Google Scholar
Grosjean, François, and Alain Deschamps
1975 “Analyse contrastive des variables temporelles de l’anglais et du français: vitesse de parole et variables composantes, phénomènes d’hésitation [Contrastive analysis of temporal variables of English and French: Speech rate and component variables, hesitation phenomena].” Phonetica 31: 144–184. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gyarmathy, Dorottya
2015 “Diszharmóniás jelenségek, megakadások a beszédben [Disharmonies and disfluencies in speech].” In Diszharmóniás jelenségek a beszédben [Disharmony phenomena in speech], edited by Mária Gósy, 9–49. Budapest: MTA Nyelvtudományi Intézet.Google Scholar
Hubbard, Carol P., and Ehud Yairi
1988 “Clustering of Disfluencies in the Speech of Stuttering and Nonstuttering Preschool Children.” Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 31 (2): 228–33. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hurtado Albir, Amparo, and Fabio Alves
2009 “Translation as Cognitive Activity.” In The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies, edited by Jeremy Munday, 54–73. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Jacewicz, Ewa, Robert Allen Fox, and Lai Wei
2010 “Between-speaker and Within-speaker Variation in the Speech Tempo of American English.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 128 (2): 839–850. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Jones, Roderick
1998Conference Interpreting Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Kahneman, Daniel
1973Attention and Effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
LaSalle, Lisa R., and Edward G. Conture
1995 “Disfluency Clusters of Children who Stutter: Relation of Stutterings to Self-repairs.” Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 38 (5): 965–977. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Levelt, Willem J. M.
1989Speaking: From Intention to Articulation. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
Lickley, Robin J.
2015 “Fluency and Disfluency.” In The Handbook of Speech Production, edited by Melissa A. Redford, 445–474. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
Mead, Peter
2000 “Control of Pauses by Trainee Interpreters in their A and B Languages.” The Interpreter’s Newsletter, 10: 89–102.Google Scholar
2002 “Exploring Hesitation in Consecutive Interpreting: An Empirical Study.” In Interpreting in the 21st Century. Challenges and Opportunities, edited by Guiliana Garzone and Maurizio Viezzi, 73–82. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Muñoz Martín, Ricardo
2010 “On Paradigms in Cognitive Translatology.” In Translation and Cognition, edited by Gregory M. Shreve and Erik Angelone, 169–187. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Plauché, Madelaine C., and Elizabeth E. Shriberg
1999 “Data-driven Subclassification of Disfluent Repetitions based on Prosodic Features.” In Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Vol. 2, 1513–1516.Google Scholar
Pöchhacker, Franz
2004Introducing Interpreting Studies. London: Routledge. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2013Professor Franz Pöchhacker interviewed at Critical Link 7. Accessed October 5, 2015. https://​www​.youtube​.com​/watch​?v​=a5hKUb1AL5w
Ramig, Lorraine A.
1983 “Effects of Physiological Aging on Speaking and Reading Rates.” Journal of Communication Disorders 16 (3): 217–226. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Roberts, Patricia M., Ann Meltzer, and Joanne Wilding
2009 “Disfluencies in Non-stuttering Adults Across Sample Lengths and Topics.” Journal of Communication Disorders 42 (6): 414–427. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Seeber, Kilian G.
2011 “Cognitive Load in Simultaneous Interpreting: Existing Theories – New Models.” Interpreting 13 (2): 176–204. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2013 “Cognitive Load in Simultaneous Interpreting: Measures and Methods.” Target 25 (1): 18–32. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2015 “Cognitive Load.” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Interpreting Studies, edited by Franz Pöchhacker, 60–61. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Shreve, Gregory, Isabel Lacruz, and Erik Angelone
2011 “Sight Translation and Speech Disfluency: Performance Analysis as a Window to Cognitive Translation Processes.” In Methods and Strategies of Process Research: Integrative Approaches in Translation Studies, edited by Ceilia Alvstad, Adelina Hild, and Elisabet Tiselius, 93–120. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tiselius, Elisabet
2018 “Exploring Cognitive Aspects of Competence in Sign Language Interpreting of Dialogues: First Impressions.” Hermes – Journal of Language and Communication in Business, 57: 49–61. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wickens, Christopher D.
1984 “Processing Resources in Attention, Dual Task Performance, and Workload Assessment.” In Varieties of Attention, edited by Raja Parasuraman and David Roy Davies, 63–102. Orlando: Academic Press.Google Scholar