Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
Over the past few decades interpreting has become 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. There is much discussion on the qualities an interpreter should acquire to perform to the best of their abilities – arguably one of the most important is that of anticipation in simultaneous interpreting.
Perhaps surprisingly, simultaneous interpreters do not always interpret a phrase directly after the speaker, for respecting this natural order can turn out to be impossible thanks to the grammatical structures of sentences in different languages. Due to this difficulty, interpreters sometimes have no other choice but to anticipate what the speaker is going to say, and convey that before the speaker does. While first reactions to anticipation may be skeptical – can an interpreter really predict what a speaker will say – it is actually a quite refined, and quite necessary skill in order for interpreters to faithfully convey speech while maintaining the natural flow of communication.
What is Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting?
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, when you begin thinking about it, there is nothing extraordinary about that. After all, we are able to anticipate events on an every day basis – weather events are one (albeit controversial) example, as well as the logical steps you should follow when driving a car to avoid getting into an accident. Professional interpreters, generally familiar with the industry and content they will be interpreting beforehand, merely do it in conversation to ensure that there are no awkward pauses that make the interpreted speech seem unnatural.
Why is Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting Used?
First of all, the central goal of professional simultaneous interpreters is to summarize as accurately as possible what the speaker is saying in order to save time and prevent listeners from getting lost in the conversation. 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 (subject, verb, object) languages, meaning the normal word order is subject + verb + object. Other languages, such as German, are SOV languages (subject, object, verb), where the normal word order is subject + object + verb. The huge majority of languages are SVO or SOV languages, but there are also VSO (verb, subject, object) languages, like Hebrew. VSO languages are less common.
If an interpreter literally interpreted between an SVO and SOV language, they would run into awkward pauses when waiting for the verb or the object to be stated in the source language. To solve this problem and not pause until the end of a sentence, the interpreter makes a hypothesis about what the speaker will say, or else uses a neutral word or expression to fill in until they know for sure. This enables him or her to postpone stating the verb or object, while also maintaining the natural flow of communication for the audience.
The History of Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
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 until 1978 in Venice 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” of Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
The first concept is known as the “universalist conception”, which is based on the research of Danica Seleskovitch and Marianne Lederer in the early 1970s and 80s. According to the “universalists”, the need for anticipation in simultaneous interpreting does not depend on the exact language pairs (as one might think it would be more common between two syntactically different languages rather than two similar ones), and in fact the verb is not the word that requires anticipation the most. To the universalists, complete knowledge of the source language is necessary and enough to be able to anticipate.
They also distinguished two types of anticipation: a linguistic anticipation and the “freewheeling interpretation”. The first is related to the passive knowledge the interpreter has of the source language. “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 while interpreting, while still allowing for correction if needed after listening to the end of the speaker’s phrase. However, not everybody agrees that this should be considered anticipation.
The universalist way of thinking prevailed during the most part of the 1980’s, but it soon fell out of favor. Indeed, experiments involving interpreting from French into German and vice versa were carried out, and the results generally disproved the 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” of Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
On the other hand, the “bilateralist conception” partisans claim that the need for 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.
Tips for Anticipating Properly
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 contextual clues) are fundamental skills 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 can be helpful for the interpreter to anticipate what will be said – hence preparation before interpreting events is essential!
The second factor that plays an important role in anticipation is known as prosody, that is to say non-verbal communication, such as the speaker’s tone, intonation, rhythm and body-language. While this can be useful, it is not always possible to see the speaker. Moreover, intonation does not necessarily have the same meaning across different languages. 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. So while this can be helpful, it should not be totally relied on for anticipation.
A Particular Case of Interpreting For 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 aforementioned theories on anticipation 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. To make it more difficult, indicating the grammatical subject is also generally unnecessary in Chinese, since the context makes it clear enough who the subject is. Chinese verbs also don’t use “markers” such as tense, person, or number. Therefore, the interpreter is facing another set of difficulties along with the usual challenges of anticipating: he or she must be clear enough in English, and accurately translate or anticipate 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 (meaning you only interpret from that language). This explains why anticipation, and interpreting in general, is so difficult. Training is important to become a professional interpreter, because only in this manner will students learn how to anticipate properly.
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