On the Use of Compensatory Strategies in Simultaneous Interpretation

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The Journal of Specialised Translation

Issue 13 – January 2010

Coping Strategies for Fast Delivery in Simultaneous Interpretation Changshuan Li, Beijing Foreign Studies University ABSTRACT Fast speech is the arch enemy of simultaneous interpreters. Prior preparation may address deficiencies in knowledge and terminology, and to some extent, alleviate the pressure of speed of delivery. But if the speed is beyond a certain limit, no interpreter can transmit the message in full, even if he/she is an expert in the subject. Fast deliveries place interpreters and listeners, particularly non-native listeners, at a disadvantage. It is widely recognised that a rate between 100 and 120 words per minute (wpm) is optimal for English speeches, although the figure may differ for different speech types. This translates into an optimal speed of 150-180 syllables per minute for Chinese speeches. To cope with speeches faster than optimal speeds, this paper proposes four strategies: the speaker is requested to slow down; the interpreter speeds up; summarisation; termination of service. KEYWORDS Simultaneous interpreting, delivery speed, coping strategies, summarisation, termination of service.

1. Speed—an Insurmountable Barrier Fast speech is the arch enemy of simultaneous interpreters. Prior preparation may address deficiencies in knowledge and terminology, and to some extent, alleviate the pressure of fast delivery. But if the speed is beyond a certain limit, no interpreter can transmit the message in full, even if the interpreter is an expert in the subject. This is even more so when the structures of the source and target languages differ substantially. The reason is simple. All interpreters have limited mental capacity. In simultaneous interpretation (SI), interpreters have to allocate attention among several tasks: listening and analysis, production, shortterm memory and coordination (Gile 1995: 161). When a speaker‟s delivery is rapid, listening and analysis alone will consume almost all the interpreter‟s energy. Little energy will be left for production, especially when production involves complicated language restructuring. The human brain is like a washing machine. The drum must never be overloaded with laundry, or there will be no room for spinning, and cleaning will not be thorough. Likewise, fast speeches overload the brain with too much information within a specific time span, leaving no room for proper processing of information to produce a coherent translation. 2. Problems of Fast Speech Delivering fast speeches in an international conference may lead to several problems: First, mistranslation and loss of information. There is a maximum output that an interpreter can produce within a given time interval; the greater the input, the greater the chance of error and 19

The Journal of Specialised Translation

Issue 13 – January 2010

omission. Secondly, fast delivery makes comprehension difficult even when the audience is listening to a native language. Thirdly, English is a non-native language to many, if not most, international conference participants. Participants lose information when either the speaker or the interpreter speaks too fast. On speed of delivery vs. comprehension, Xie Likui of Hubei Radio Station in China argues that there is a limit to speed in language production and language reception. When a speech is delivered too fast, „the ears‟ cannot catch up with „the mouth,‟ and the listener has difficulty understanding the speaker. According to Xie, the speed of news broadcasting has become faster. Take News Digest (Xinwen he baozhi zhaiyao), a China Central Television (or CCTV, China‟s national TV network) programme as an example. In the 1960‟s, the broadcaster‟s speed of delivery was 185 characters per minute (cpm) (each character is one syllable). The speed was increased to 200-220 cpm in the 1980‟s, 240-260 cpm in the 1990s, 250-270 cpm in recent years, and in extreme cases, over 300 cpm today....
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