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Sociolinguistic and Discourse Studies in Translation and Interpretation

Thus, translation began to focus on how the listener or listeners would understand а message and how insufficient it was to expect а form-to-form translation. In Anderson, а sociologist, speculated on the role of translators (he included interpreters in this usage) in social situations, and believed that, as such, these situations could be analyzed as socially constructed situations with underlying rules and conditions and accordingly, an analysis would reveal all the ways in which interpreters were functioning in such situations.

His speculation was that the interpreter “is likely to exert considerable influence on the evolution of group structure and on the outcome of the interaction”. He also commented that understanding the role of interpreter’s should enlighten our understanding of interaction between people whose different statuses and backgrounds differ. Anderson’s main contribution lies in his outline of а typical interpreting event: а situation that is social in nature and constituted primarily of three people–two primary participants and an interpreter.

One primary participant is typically а representative of government authority, such as а police officer, an officer of the court, or а representative of social services, such as а doctor, caseworker, or other and who typically speaks the majority or prestige language. А second primary participant is typically а person in need of services and who typically speaks а minority or less prestigious language. The third participant is the interpreter. Each of these representatives has а particular role, and Anderson emphasized that by definition, interpreters are bilingual, and most likely, the only bilingual in the situation.

“The two monolingual actors would be unable to communicate with each other without his aid–except through а primitive set of gestures” (1976: 21o) In а later article, also noted in а number of interviews with spoken language interpreters that most agreed that only а small percentage of their work was conference interpreting (а term for interpreting а single speaker to а largely non-responsive audience). His analysis is one of the first to point the way toward а discourse framework by pointing out the significance of participant roles and elements for interpreted events.

More recently, Shuy (1987, 199o) has stressed the need for research into translation and interpreting as а communicative event suggesting that sociolinguistics and its subfield discourse analysis are fields uniquely designed to study interpreting and interactive events. Cognitive Approaches to Interpreting Process Initially, research on interpreting processes was done by cognitive psychologists and psycholinguists interested in the simultaneous processing task of listening, interpreting, and speaking.

While much of the research had been experimental, some of the more recent research has used conference interpreters as they worked, all of which has focused on interpreter error in order to locate cognitive breakdowns which highlight information processing stages. Gerver (1976) summarized the research he surveyed by suggesting that а model based on theories about human information processing, with particular attention to memory and attention, be adapted to represent the cognitive processes involved in simultaneous interpreting.

Then he outlined а model with two caveats: one, that the flow chart of human information processing “refers only briefly to the processes involved in decoding the source language message and its subsequent encoding in the target language,” and the other, that the model is essentially psychological rather than а linguistic description of simultaneous interpretation. He concluded with а warning that this kind of model is only а first approximation and that further analysis of situational, personal, and linguistic factors is needed.

As he clearly indicates in his summary, “Professional interpreters might, for instance, object that failing to take into account such nonverbal factors as the presence or absence of the actual source language speaker, or an audience diminishes the value of conclusions based on experimental findings” Moser-Mercer (1978) elaborated on Gerver model by further expanding the stages of cognitive activities involved in understanding and producing language. Both of these models attempt to define the interpreter’s organization and access of syntactic and semantic information.

Moving away from translation theories based on contrastive linguistics, Seleskovitch, а teacher of conference interpreters in France, also moved toward psycholinguistics for explanations of how interpreters should not be focusing on word-level equivalents but rather on the sense that а text conveys. She wrote, “The sensing of what is meant as opposed to knowing а language as such is the very foundation of interpretation” (1977: 28). She argued that interpreters should render the sense of а message or idea through а three-step process of understanding, visualizing, and re-creating the message in the target language.

Cokely (1984) argued that these models are information processing models that view the interpreting process as concerned primarily with language transfer, which does not account for the fact that “the interpreter mediates between two individuals and communities as well as mediating between two languages” (1984: 1o). Cokely’s model, а psycholinguistic model of the cognitive stages of processing, was produced from analyzing the miscues (errors) of six interpreters who interpreted for speakers giving lectures at а conference.

Cokely produced taxonomy of the major cognitive stages of an interpreting process: message reception, preliminary processing, short term message retention, semantic intent realization, semantic equivalence determination, syntactic message formulation, and message production. The first communicative model of simultaneous interpreting was developed by Ingram. In this early model, the interpreter is represented as а channel in а communication-binding context with а source and а receiver. Ingram revised his earlier model to include the multi-code, multi-channel nature of interpreting as а complex semiotic process.

In this model, the interpreter must decode, transfer, and recode “а multiplicity of messages in а multiplicity of interwoven codes with every single act of interpretation” (1985: 111) Ingram’s work pointed the way toward the notion of multiple ways in which meaning is communicated and the need to uncover such complex possibilities. In 199o two books arrived on the international scene and began to change the course of research and theory in translation and interpreting: one, а discourse approach to translation and the other а sociolinguistic approach to interpreting.

These two studies and, as many of the studies that follow note, come to similar conclusions: (1) The interpreter is doing more than transferring the linguistic content of messages; (2) It is necessary to study the interaction among all participants; (3) To study interpreting effectively requires recording and transcribing talk; (4) Meanings can be understood only when considered in the light of the relationship of the participants, their intentions, their goals, discourse sequences, and other elements of discourse; and (5) Interpreters are negotiating the way messages are understood by others, not just the meaning of words.

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