Anticipation and timing of turn-taking in dialogue interpreting: A quantitative study using mobile eye-tracking data


This article presents the results of an exploratory study on the timing of turn-taking in face-to-face dialogue interpreting based on a corpus of interpreted interactions that were recorded with mobile eye-trackers. Our aims were to: (1) investigate the timing of interpreters’ turns in dialogic interaction; and (2) identify features that have an impact on interpreters’ turn-taking speed. These include input processing factors (including turn type and turn duration) and gaze, which have been shown to play an important role in turn-taking. The analysis shows that, although interpreters in our study tend to orient to the maxim ‘one speaker at a time’, turn transitions between the primary speaker and the interpreter contain more gaps and longer overlaps than have been found for same-language interactions. It also shows that the type of turn produced by the primary speaker (question vs. non-question), the primary speaker’s speech rate, and, to a certain extent, turn duration affect the interpreter’s turn-taking speed. Thus, the present study contributes to a better understanding of the processes that impact the timing of turn-taking in face-to-face dialogue interpreting.

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Table of contents

Turn-taking is a fundamental aspect of dialogue interpreting. Typically, dialogue interpreting is conducted in consecutive mode, and the interpreter participates in the exchange by taking every second turn (Bot 2005; Mason 2009). In this process, the interpreter does not merely translate primary speakers’ utterances, but is an active participant who is critically engaged in the negotiation of meaning and in the coordination of the interaction (Wadensjö 1998, 2018; Davidson 2002; Gavioli 2016; Gavioli and Wadensjö 2021). Although the interpreter participates in the interaction by taking turns, finding appropriate moments to take a turn is not an easy task. It is important that this process runs smoothly, as problems in turn-taking between the interpreter and the primary participants may affect the accuracy and fluency of the interpreter’s rendition and the overall success of communication (see Braun 2013; De Boe 2020; Vranjes and Bot 2021). Moreover, while taking part in the exchange, the interpreter is at the same time engaged in a cognitively demanding activity involving comprehension, memorization, and reproduction of the incoming turn in a target language (see Gile 1997). This may affect the interpreter’s turn-taking behavior. For instance, it has been argued that interpreters usually benefit from shorter primary speaker turns, since turns that are too long could overburden the interpreter’s memory capacity (Bot 2005; see also Englund Dimitrova 1997). Both the interpreter’s position in the exchange as a ‘mediating’ third party and their involvement in a cognitively complex task will inevitably have an impact on their decision for when to take the turn.

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