Phonology Matters in Interpreting

by Katarzyna Stachowiak (Author)
©2018 Monographs 116 Pages


This book bridges the gap between phonological and Interpreting Studies. It first presents interdisciplinary studies on interpreters and interpreting receivers. The subsequent chapters discuss phonology, phonological transfer and bilingual processing. The author also touches upon expertise and quality in interpreting, including phonological development. The final chapter presents a study on prosodic transfer in interpreting. Put succinctly, this book is about the role and importance of phonology and phonological processes in studying, practising and working on one’s interpreting.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 Phonology matters in Interpreting Studies
  • 1.1 Interpreting and the profession of conference interpreter
  • 1.2 Interdisciplinarity in Interpreting Studies
  • 1.3 Phonology in models and studies on interpreting
  • 1.4 Some gaps and implications
  • References
  • 2 Phonological transfer
  • 2.1 Languages in the bilingual mind
  • 2.2 What is phonological transfer?
  • 2.3 Phonological transfer in bilinguals
  • 2.4 Can phonological transfer occur in interpreters?
  • References
  • 3 Phonology matters in interpreting practice
  • 3.1 About quality
  • 3.2 Phonemics and prosody as quality components in interpreting
  • 3.3 Voice and phonology in interpreter training
  • References
  • 4 A study on prosodic transfer in simultaneous interpreting
  • 4.1 Focus on prosody: Pauses and intonation
  • 4.2 Phonological differences between English and Polish
  • 4.3 The study
  • 4.3.1 Aim
  • 4.3.2 Participants
  • 4.3.3 Materials
  • 4.3.4 Research questions
  • 4.3.5 Procedure
  • 4.3.6 Software and apparatus
  • 4.3.7 Data analysis
  • 4.3.8 Results
  • 4.3.9 Discussion
  • 4.3.10 Limitations of the study and future research
  • References
  • 5 Concluding remarks
  • References
  • List of figures
  • Index of names


Phonological transfer can occur in different groups of language users and proceed not only from one’s mother tongue onto the second language, but also vice versa. While in general it is not desired to have one’s native pronunciation modulated by the second language, some groups of language users need to be characterized by an excellent ability to “keep the phonologies” of two languages “apart”. These groups include simultaneous interpreters in whom the constant activation and inhibition of two languages needs to be good enough to ensure on one hand source language understanding and on the other – the perfect production in target language. In short, phonological correctness matters for interpreters, and interpreting receivers, as it ensures the listeners’ understanding, subjectively perceived professionalism and elegance of speech, and the comfort of listening.

This book touches upon the issue of phonology and phonological matters in conference interpreting, falling within the interdisciplinary approach to interpreting studies, described in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 delineates the complex problem of phonology and phonological transfer in the interpreting process. The issue of quality and phonological training in interpreting practice are described in Chapter 3. The study presented in Chapter 4 verifies if the native prosody of professional simultaneous interpreters may be affected by the prosody of the speaker. Intonation and pauses were analysed to determine whether the source text prosody affects the native one of the interpreters. The results revealed that there is an association between the interpreter’s and the speaker’s patterns of intonation; however, interpreters differed from the source text speaker in terms of pause length and number. The outcome of the study sheds new light not only on prosodic transfer but also on the psycholinguistic and phonological aspects of interpreting, as well as on the interpreter training. ←7 | 8→ ←8 | 9→

1Phonology matters in Interpreting Studies

1.1Interpreting and the profession of conference interpreter

Interpreting Studies constitutes a relatively young field of research, albeit one that investigates one of the oldest professions in human history (Gentile et al. 1996). According to Gentile et al. (1996: 20ff.), interpreting was an inseparable part of human interaction and has served different purposes and social groups. It may refer to any act of conveying a sense expressed, usually orally, in one language into an equivalent message, spoken or signed, in another language. Jones (1998: 3) describes the interpreter as any mediator facilitating communication. This facilitation, according to Jones (1998: 3) is not only a linguistic one, as the interpreter’s role is always aimed at removing any barriers in human interaction. These barriers may be understood narrowly as the inability of two or more people to speak the same language, but can also, more broadly, be caused by conflicting political views or economic interests, as well as cultural, religious or social differences (Jones 1998: 3f.). Similarly to Jones (1998), AIIC (20151) states that the main task of the interpreter the “mediation to facilitate communication between speaker and listeners”.

This complex role of the interpreter as a communication mediator reflects the purposes for which interpreters have been used for centuries. For instance, Cokely (1992) points to the possible role of interpreters in the conquests of Alexander the Great and suggests that the early legendary and religious sources and accounts (such as the story of the Tower of Babel) can be treated as proofs of interpreters’ existence in ancient times. Angelelli (2004: 8) claims that interpreters worked as linguistic and cultural mediators in the times of the colonial conquest of both Americas. As pointed out by Bastin (2001: 507f.), bilinguals played an important role in interlingual communication, frequently serving or working as interpreters, as early as in the fifteenth century. Later, in the mid-sixteenth century, interpreting was granted the status of a profession (Angelelli 2004: 10) in certain European countries. ←9 | 10→

Contemporary times put interpreters in a new position of agents interpreting for a large audience, mainly due to the development of sound transmission technology. The earliest proofs of modern interpreting trace back to 1919, when an interpreting service was provided during the Paris Peace Conference via a specially designed telephonic system (Baigorri-Jalón 2004). Nevertheless, it is the Nuremberg trials which are generally identified as the first event where simultaneous interpreting (SI) was put into practice (Baigorri-Jalón 2004; Gaiba 1998). The first half of the twentieth century shaped interpretation into the widely recognised profession it is today and gave rise to what is referred to as conference interpreting.

Interpreting is divided into several types, depending on the interpreting process, as well as the settings or the audience it is performed for. This book focuses on conference interpreting, as opposed to, e.g. media or community interpreting. The adjunct “conference” refers to the initial settings in which this type of interpretation appeared, namely international conferences. The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC 2012a), does not specify directly what conference interpreting is, but refers to it as interpreting “practised at international summits, professional seminars, and bilateral or multilateral meetings of heads of State and Government”2. Even though this description is a rather vague definition of conference interpreting, it does reflect the nature of this particular kind of interpreting, as there is no single criterion that would allow for classifying an interpretation as a “conference” one.

Conference interpreting may itself be divided into several modes, most frequently stated to be: simultaneous, consecutive, liaison and chuchotage. As this book focuses on the simultaneous mode, it is vital to mention that SI refers to the interpretation that is performed alongside the source speech, with a short time lag called ear-voice span (EVS; Timarová et al. 2011: 121ff.). Both EVS and the pace of the interpreter’s speech is subject to individual variation. However, Gerver (1969: 162ff.) observed that interpreters produce their speech with a time lag that corresponds to the production of two to three words, depending on the pace of the speaker. In general, the overriding rule of SI is to deliver the target text (TT) in a ←10 | 11→ way that enables the target audience to keep track of the speaker’s message without any significant delay. In most cases, simultaneous interpreters work in sound-proof booths, and are always accompanied by another interpreter. The interpreters take shifts to interpret, and each shift is recommended by AIIC (2006) not to exceed 30 minutes due to the high cognitive effort interpreters deal with when performing the task.

Conference interpreters are usually required to work in both simultaneous and consecutive mode, in at least two languages defined as “working languages” (AIIC 2012b)3. In European institutions, these languages are referred to as A, B and C, corresponding to mother tongue, active and passive languages, respectively. The interpreter’s active language stands for the language he or she interprets from and into (in this case, the interpreter interprets from and into languages A and B). A passive language (C) is a language from which the interpreter interprets into his or her mother tongue (i.e. language A). Although this classification is applied in the institutions of the European Union (AIIC 2012b), interpreters rarely have the chance to interpret in one direction on local (national) markets, which usually boils down to the fact that either they do not use their C languages when working on these markets, or interpret in a bidirectional way irrespective of their working language. This language classification applies to all the interpreting types and modes.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Conference interpreting Simultaneous interpreting Interpreting quality Interpreting expertise Phonological transfer Prosodic transfer
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 114 pp., 31 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Stachowiak (Author)

Katarzyna Stachowiak is a conference interpreter and co-founder of the Polish Association of Conference Interpreters. She works as an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw, Poland, conducting research on interpreting and translation processes, products and skill development.


Title: Phonology Matters in Interpreting
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118 pages