Assessing Directionality In Context

Stefanie Dose


The directionality debate in interpreting revolves around the question of whether and how (simultaneous) interpreters’ performance differs when working from a second and into a first language compared to interpreting from a first and into a second language. Interpreting into a second language remains a controversial practice that has been dubbed “retour interpreting”, “active interpreting”, “service translation”, or “inverse translation” (Pavlovič 2007), terms that reflect the traditionally critical attitudes towards the practice. While many scholars argue in favour of either one of the two interpreting directions, often rejecting the opposite direction as producing interpreting of inferior quality, more recent research suggests that other, extralinguistic factors may have interpreting direction-specific effects on an interpreter’s performance (Gile 2005), which may explain contradictory findings in the literature. The pilot study reported on in this article examines the interaction between one such extralinguistic factor, namely interpreters’ familiarity with the context of the speech to be interpreted, and interpreting direction by analysing the examination performances of eight interpreters following a postgraduate simultaneous interpreting course. The course participants were recorded interpreting speeches into both their first and second languages on familiar as well as unfamiliar topics; their individual performances were then compared on the basis of examiners’ assessments of the individual renditions. The results provide support for the notion that interpreters’ familiarity with the context of a speech does indeed have a direction-specific effect on interpreting quality and provides more consistent benefits for second-language interpreting than for first-language interpreting.


directionality, familiarity with the topic, interpreter performance

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