Exploring the impact of word order asymmetry on cognitive load during Chinese–English sight translation: Evidence from eye-movement data
Xingcheng Ma,Dechao Li and Yu-Yin Hsu
Southeast University | The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
This paper explores the impact of word order asymmetry between source language and target language on cognitive load during Chinese–English sight translation. Twenty-five MA students of translation from a Hong Kong university were asked to sight translate sentences with different degrees of between-language structural asymmetry from Chinese into English, in both single-sentence and discourse context conditions. Their eye movements were recorded to examine cognitive load during sight translation. The results show: (1) There was a significant effect of word order asymmetry on overall cognitive load as indicated by the considerably longer dwell times and more frequent fixations for the asymmetric sentences, but it was only during the later-processing stage that structural asymmetry exerted a strong influence on local processing in terms of first fixation duration and regression path duration; (2) the role of context in offsetting the asymmetry effect was very limited; and (3) although reordering may place a greater burden on working memory, most participants preferred reordering over segmentation to cope with the asymmetric structures. The empirical data point to the need to consider word order asymmetry as a variable in theoretical accounts of the interpreting process, especially for interpreting between languages that are structurally very different.
The extent to which language specificity imposes additional difficulties on interpreting has been an issue of ongoing debate (Setton 1999; Donato 2003). Language specificity refers to language-specific factors, such as differences in language structures and cultural conceptualization between source language (SL) and target language (TL) (Gile 2002). Conflicting views have emerged with regard to the impact of language specificity on interpreting. Supporters of the Universality Hypothesis, represented by the Paris School, deny the relevance of language-specific factors in interpreting and believe that interpreting is not fundamentally different from monolingual speaking because all language-specific difficulties can be avoided through deverbalization – a widely taught strategy that prioritizes sense over language forms (Seleskovitch 1978; Lederer 1998). In contrast, Information Processing theorists consider language specificity to be a major obstacle in interpreting that requires specific strategies (Donato 2003; Gile 2005). One prominent indicator of language specificity is the difference between the SL and TL in syntax or word order (Gile 2005; Li 2015). Interpreters dealing with syntactically different language pairs may experience greater cognitive constraints as a result of syntactic disambiguation, heavy memory load and coordination (Gile 2002; Christoffels, De Groot, and Kroll 2006). To examine the effect of language specificity on interpreting performance, studies of different language combinations have been conducted and have provided empirical evidence for a negative impact of word order asymmetry on interpreting performance (Gile 2011b; Seeber and Kerzel 2012).
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