Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
Interpreting has become over the past few decades an essential part of international communication. Although there is a high demand for interpreting, being able to interpret at a professional level is far from being easy. Among the numerous qualities an interpreter must acquire, there is the one of anticipating. Indeed, for how difficult it may seem at first glance, interpreters do not always interpret a phrase after the interpreted speaker says this phrase, for respecting this natural order can turn out to be impossible. In other terms, interpreters sometimes have no other choice but to anticipate what the speaker is going to say.
Clarification of the expression
Anticipating in simultaneous interpreting simply means that interpreters say a word or a group of words before the speaker actually says them. This interpreting strategy is regularly resorted to and, thinking it over, there is nothing extraordinary about that. After all, we are able to anticipate weather events, as well as certain situations (for example, when driving a car, you know what logical steps need to be followed to avoid getting into an accident).
Why is it resorted to?
First of all, it is good to insist the central goal of professional simultaneous interpreters is to synthesize what the speaker is saying in order to save time and not to get lost. This is why anticipating can really make things easier for them.
Anticipation in simultaneous interpreting is especially common between languages in which the normal word order is not the same. For example, English or French are SVO languages (normal word order is subject + verb + object), whereas German is an SOV language (normal word order is subject + object + verb). The huge majority of languages are SVO or SOV languages, but there are also VSO languages (like Hebrew). The other types of languages are less common.
To solve this problem and not pause until the end of a sentence, which would be awkward for the audience, the interpreter makes a hypothesis or expresses a neutral word or expression, which enables him or her to postpone stating the verb which comes at the end of the sentence.
History of anticipation in simultaneous interpreting and main “conceptions”
While the first example of simultaneous interpreting dates back to the Nuremberg Trials, in 1945-46, the issue of anticipation in simultaneous interpreting was not discussed in Venice in 1978, at the NATO Symposium on Language Interpretation and Communication. Participants wanted to find new ways of improving anticipation abilities in interpreters, as the needs and demands for interpreting were growing. In the years following that event, two main conceptions of anticipation in simultaneous interpreting emerged.
The “universalist conception”
On the one hand, there is the “universalist conception”, which began in 1981 with Lederer. According to the “universalists”, the difficulty of simultaneous interpreting and anticipation does not depend on language pairs, and they think the verb is not the type of word that most requires anticipation. To them, complete knowledge of the source language is necessary, and enough to be able to anticipate. They also distinguish two types of anticipation: a linguistic anticipation and the “freewheeling interpretation”. The first one is related to the passive knowledge the interpreter has of the source language. As for the second one, not everybody agrees on the fact it is anticipation: “freewheeling interpretation” refers to a strategy used by the interpreter to verify (and correct, if necessary) their interpretation. They can do it by employing a grammatical structure that enables them not to remain silent for too long and at the same time correct if needed their interpretation after listening the end of the speaker’s phrase.
This way of thinking prevailed during the most part of the 1980s, but some people started disagreeing with it. Indeed, experiments involving interpreting from French into German and vice versa were carried out, and the results generally disproved this theory. Not only did they show that the interpreters anticipated more when interpreting into French than into German (they had to anticipate every 85 seconds on average), but also that the verb was actually what they were anticipating most (roughly 80% of the anticipated words)…
The “bilateralist conception”
On the other hand, the “bilateralist conception” partisans claim anticipation in simultaneous interpreting is a language-specific phenomenon, and that the verb does have a special status. Thus, this conception is confirmed by the experiment described above. However, this does not mean the “universalist conception” is totally wrong. In particular, its theory of the “freewheeling interpretation” is still used today.
Hints to anticipate properly
It has appeared over the years that anticipation is enabled by several factors.
Interpreters can be helped by linguistic factors, that is to say their knowledge of the source language. Mastering expressions, set phrases or being able to quickly locate important words (those that give clues) is fundamental for anticipation. But there are also the so-called extra-linguistic factors. These refer to the text’s or the speaker’s particular background. Any information about them is really helpful for anticipation. Hence preparation before interpreting events is essential!
As well, prosody (that is to say non-verbal communication, such as the speaker’s tone, intonation, rhythm and body-language) plays an important role. However, it is not always possible to see the speaker. Moreover, the intonation does not necessarily have the same meaning depending on the language. For instance, studies showed English intonations can sound aggressive to German-speaking people, while German intonations are monotonous and boring to an English-speaking audience.
Particular case of Asian languages
Simultaneous interpreting from and into Asian languages began later than with Indo-European languages (only in the 1970s and 1980s), and after the theories on anticipation mentioned before developed. As a result, parts of these theories are sometimes hard to put into practice when working with Asian languages, such as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. For example, Chinese uses fewer words than English for a same phrase, so the use for anticipation is not that obvious. However, indicating the grammatical subject is generally unnecessary in Chinese, since the context makes it clear enough who this subject is. Besides, “markers” such as tense, person, or number do not appear on Chinese verbs. Therefore, the interpreter is facing another difficulty than the one to anticipate: the one to be clear enough in English and translate accurately the Chinese phrase, even if it seems to lack information.
All in all, anticipation is a key competence that interpreters need to learn before they can become professionals. This is especially true when interpreting between two languages which do not have the same natural word order. As well, a very in-depth knowledge of the source language is required, even if it is considered to be one of your passive languages (that is to say, if you only interpret from that language), and also a strong general knowledge. This explains why it is so difficult and training is important to become an interpreter, because only in this manner will interpreting students learn how to anticipate properly…