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Review of  Simultaneous Interpretation

Reviewer: Zouhair Maalej
Book Title: Simultaneous Interpretation
Book Author: Robin Setton
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 10.1951

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Setton, Robin (1999). _Simultaneous Interpretation.
A Cognitive-pragmatic analysis_. Amsterdam/
Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company
(399 pages; ISBN: 90 272 1631 2).

reviewed by Zouhair Maalej, University of Tunis I


In the Preface (xiii), the author writes about his own
work: "One avowed aim of this work is to encourage
mainstream linguists and translation (interpretation)
researchers to take a greater interest in each others'
work." This extract is reminiscent of a similar call
made four decades earlier by Roman Jakobson
(1964) at Indiana University, where he exhorted
linguists and literary critics to co-operate. History
repeats itself, and this book attempts to conciliate
translators with linguists and the linguistics of
translation. This book about conference interpretation
includes eight balanced chapters, Introduction and
Conclusions inclusive. It also includes, apart from the
Bibliography and the End notes, Appendices
(samples of data), a Glossary, a Subject index,
and a Names Index. The book should be accessible
to the student specialising in SI, to SI linguistically-
minded (simultaneous) interpreters, and to the
researcher in language processing, translating,
and interpreting. Although the different chapters
make up a coherent whole, they could safely be
read separately. The book is written in clear English,
and the author has included recapitulative
paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter to
refresh the reader's mind, with each chapter
ending in a summary of the main points, making
passage into the next one smooth.


Chapter 1: Introduction
In the first section of the Introduction, the objectives
of the book are at different places briefly stated,
and features of SI are contrasted with those of
general speech or conversation. In the rest of the
Introduction, the pragmatic-cum-cognitive framework
adopted is justified by invoking the challenge SI
constitutes to models of language use. The
framework combines two pragmatic schools
(namely, Sperber & Wilson's Relevance Theory
and Speech Act Theory as represented by Austin
and Searle) and two cognitive linguistics schools
(namely, Fillmore's Frame Theory and Johnson-Laird's
Mental Model Theory). From Relevance Theory as
a theory of cognition and communication is borrowed
its "ostensive-inferential" dimension, i.e. the
"intention to make something manifest" (Sperber &
Wilson, 1995: 49), whose recognition by the
interpreter invites inferencing and processing.
Speech Act Theory is drawn upon as to the concept
of "intentional states" (Searle, 1983) and
"illocutionary force." From Fillmore's cognitive
semantics is borrowed the concept of "frame,"
where frames are seen either a source of evocation
or invocation for the interpreter. Last, the concept of
"economy of intermediate representation" is borrowed
from Johnson-Laird's (1983) Mental Model Theory of

Chapter 2: SI Research
This chapter is a review of the literature on SI, therefore
it is fairly technical. No less than six trends have been
inventoried, namely, the temporal and surface variables,
computational linguistics approach, Information-
processing models, the Effort Model, the French
Interpretative Theory of translation, the German General
Translation Theory. The author systematically gives an
expository account of the theory, following it up with
critical remarks. From among these trends, the author
is slightly more favourable to the Effort Model
(presumably because it includes an important cognitive
component) and the French Interpretative Theory of
translation (again because it includes a pragmatic-
cognitive component having to do with speaker's
"vouloir-dire" or intentions), with the other trends being
in disfavour owing to their not being abreast with
developments in linguistics and cognitive psychology.
In his evaluation of SI research methodology, the author
points out that consensus seems to have been reached
as to the need for more corpora, observational and
experimental studies, and feedback from practising
interpreters. However, competing theories, we are told,
do not seem to agree on cognitive function and language,
psychological mechanisms of SI, and the ease-difficulty
of SI in language pairs (due mainly to word order
differences, among other things).

Chapter 3: An Outline Model for SI
This chapter offers a hybrid corpus-based processing
and production model of analysis for SI based on the
relationship between perception, cognition, and action
in speech. At the processing input level, audio-visual
input from the Speaker is perceived (phonetically and
prosodically), recognised, and interpreted (parsed
and disambiguated). At the production output level,
the interpreted data is conceptualised, encoded,
and articulated through the sensorimotor system.
In between, a major module includes sub-modules:
(1) stores, including (i) linguistic knowledge
(lexicon/grammar), (ii) immediate situation knowledge,
and (iii) world knowledge; and (2) processes,
including the (i) mental model, for semantic and
contextual (primary pragmatic) integration, and
(ii) the Executive, for secondary pragmatic processes,
judgment (involving theory of mind), and
macro-coordination. In the second part of the chapter,
the workings of the model as represented by its
various components are convincingly elaborated and
explicated through illustrative examples. The chapter
emerges as fairly technical, but technicality is toned
down by tables and charts.

Chapter 4: Research Issues, Corpus, and Methodology
This chapter begins with a survey of some research
issues such as determining the cues used by
interpreters, the extent to which word order claims
affect SI, the sources of errors in SI, etc. The second
section deals with the corpus (chosen for its
representativity and other technical matters), which
consists of tape-recording from real world and simulated
conference sessions in German-English, and Chinese-
English pairs. The methodology used with the data is
abductive, a strategy combining hypothesis-testing with
relevance and economy, and consisting in leaving the
data speak for itself rather than imposing parameters on
the data.

Chapter 5: Structures and Strategies
Discussing obstacles to SI, the chapter posits that,
contrary to common beliefs, word order asymmetry
between a SL and a TL is not the real challenge to
SI. More real challenges to SI are logical scope,
suprasegmentals, tense, aspect, modalities,
illocutionary force, and the way meanings are
packaged in lexical items in different languages.
As a result of structural asymmetries and performance
variables, processes of paraphrasing, reordering,
and simplification are at work in SI, which are then
informed by contextual features. The strategy
suggested to deal with these structural asymmetries
is, therefore, a pragmatic-cognitive framework.

Chapter 6: The Pragmatics of Interpretation
Relying on Relevance Theory, the first part of this
chapter documents the role of contexts (linguistic
and extralinguistic), and traces their function in
disambiguating and enriching propositional content.
It is argued quite convincingly that in practice SI
interpreters rely on frames, scripts, and the context
of situation to recall, anticipate, and infer information.
As an important SI strategy, anticipation is argued to
draw upon propositional attitudes, general pragmatic
principles, and long-range deduction. Drawing on
Searle's Intentional States of Belief and Desire (1983),
the rest of the chapter is devoted to the way
intentionality crosses over from a SL to a TL. It is
claimed that propositional attitudes are conveyed
either via (i) "overt expressions of belief or desire,"
(ii) "expressions which imply such beliefs and desires,"
or (iii) "features which assign relative importance to
propositions or their parts" (199). Attitudes are also
recovered from "procedural and non-truth-conditional
devices" (e.g. modals and connectives) and prosodic
features (e.g. contrastive stress). To show lack of
correspondence in encoding attitudes, the chapter
offers comparative illustrative examples from the
pairs of languages studied.

Chapter 7: Judgment, Compensation and Coordination
To resolve lack of correspondence, which may be
at the origin of simplification or dilution of meaning
(illocutionary force, speaker's attitudes, etc.), the
chapter focuses on judgment, compensation, and
coordination. The role of judgment in SI is at least
threefold: bringing correctives to the Speaker's
ungrammatical statements, merging semantically
similar statements, and correcting or even rejecting
grammatically well formed statements in the light of
pragmatic knowledge (at the relevance and coherence
levels). The interpreter may also have recourse to
elaboration and embellishment (when time allows) in
accordance with the Cooperative Principle
(Grice, 1975). Compensation, on the other hand, is
a result of the interpreter's failure to control rhetorical
impact and lack of direct access to the Speaker's
communicative intentions. It acts as adjustments for
resolving the interpreter's lack of time for correcting,
invalidating, or modifying a previously unclear or
linguistically implicit intention. Compensation's goal is
to restore focus and perspective, and may be achieved
by skewing between linguistic levels of lexis and syntax,
for instance, when a lexical item is used to compensate
the affective use of word order. Last, coordination
between input and output is biased toward judgment
on input and clear and fluent output. Coordination of the
input-output also takes place between mental modelling
and pragmatic processing. Failures to co-ordinate
originate in lack of competence or pragmatic breakdown.

Chapter 8: Summary and Conclusions

The chapter assesses SI's contribution to the
understanding of the relation between language
and mind. SI is said to afford the one important
achievement that has to do with combining in
one intensive act three dimensions: language,
subject-matter (or content), and communicative
intentions, which necessitate a cognitive-
pragmatic account. The chapter also points
to the implications of the model of SI presented
for cognitive modelling, and ends with suggestions
for future potential alleys of research to enrich both
cognitive science and SI.


In the very last sentence of the book, the author,
referring to himself, writes: "This researcher is
more enthusiastic about what SI can teach us
about human psychology for its own sake,
through a better understanding of the relationship
between thought and language" (284). This
enthusiasm is greater than that about developing
translation algorithms to be implemented by
computers. It is undeniably true that the book under
review has contributed greatly to enriching research
in cognitive science. However, the book offering a
model of how sense is made of SI raises a few
thoughts in the researcher's mind:

(i) without in the least trying to lessen the importance
of the insights of the model of interpreting offered,
more corpus-based cognitive and psycholinguistic
research is needed to validate the model's theoretical
assumptions together with whether or not the model's
claims coincide with SI interpreters' cognitive and
pragmatic strategies (as the author himself

(ii) assuming the accuracy of the model
(both theoretically and empirically), it is not clear
how it can be used to improve the interpreter's
skill or performance (which is not one of the
objectives of the author behind writing the book),
although it is insightful in terms of how the factors
surrounding the SI task may be coped with to
improve the interpreter's yield;

(iii) the model investigates a restricted set of
pairs of languages representing the Indo-European
and Sinitic families; therefore, more research about
other families is needed to corroborate or invalidate
the foundations of the model both at the cognitive
and pragmatic levels.

It is hoped that this review has done justice to the
richness of this book as represented by the amount
of linguistic knowledge included (two sub-theories
of pragmatics and two sub-theories of cognitive
linguistics), the review of the literature on SI (ranging
over no less than seven major trends), the coherence
of the model, the balanced alternation between theory
and practice, and the horizons the book opens up for
further research in cognitive science and SI. The book
is, thus, for many of us invaluable reading on the
cognitive-cum-pragmatic dimensions of SI.


- Grice, Paul (1975). "Logic and Conversation."
In: P. Cole & J. Morgan (eds.), _Syntax and
Semantics. Speech Acts_ (Vol. 3). London:
Academic Press, 41-58.

- Jakobson, Roman (1964). "Closing Statement:
Linguistics and Poetics." In: T.A. Sebeok (ed.),
_Style in Language_. Mass.: The M.I.T., 350-377.

- Johnson-Laird, Philip (1983). _Mental Models_.
Cambridge: CUP.

- Searle, John R. (1983). _Intentionality.
An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind_. London/New
York: CUP.

- Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson (1995).
_Relevance Theory. Communication and
Cognition_ (second edition). Oxford: Blackwell.


Zouhair Maalej, Assistant professor of Linguistics
(University of Tunis I). My doctorate is about
*Metaphor in Political and Economic Texts
(a cognitive-pragmatic perspective)* (1990).
I am currently chair of the Department of English
Language and Literature, Manouba (University
of Tunis I). My research interests include: cognitive
linguistics, the cognition-culture interface,
pragmatics, stylistics, critical discourse analysis,
systemic linguistics, translation studies. I have
published on machine translation, modality, voice,
and metaphor. I have participated in a number of
international conferences. I teach two undergraduate
courses on translation studies and comparative
stylistics (English/Arabic), and two postgraduate
courses on pragmatics and stylistic theory.

Dr Zouhair Maalej,
Assistant Professor,
Department of English, Chair,
Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences,
Tunis-Manouba, 2010, TUNISIA.
Home Tel/Fax: (+216) 1 362 871