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Review of  Inference and Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting

Reviewer: Ihab Ahmad Shabana
Book Title: Inference and Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
Book Author: Ghelly V. Chernov Robin Setton Adelina Hild
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 16.2248

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Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005 05:29:53 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ihab Shabana
Subject: Inference and Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting

AUTHOR: Chernov, Ghelly
EDITORS: Setton, Robin; Hild, Adelina
TITLE: Inference and Anticipation in Simultaneous Interpreting
SERIES: Translating and Interpreting
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Ihab A. I. Shabana, Ph.D Candidate, Teacher of Arabic SOAS, University of
London and Assistant Lecturer, Department Of English, Al-Azhar University-


Practice makes perfect. More focused and comprehensive training makes a
highly skilled professional interpreter. These two statements represent
the core points of this book. In this book, the author presents a
comprehensive approach that will help interpreters and their trainers to
reach a successful rendition of the source language into the target

Simultaneous interpretation involves multiple activities that run within
the working memory of the interpreter. These activities include listening,
comprehension of the source language and instantly turning the message of
the source language into the target language. That is "by its very nature,
simultaneous interpreting imposes large demands on an individual's
cognitive resources" (Liu et al. 2004:20). This pressure motivated
researchers in simultaneous interpreting to access the theories of
psychology in order to develop the performance of simultaneous
interpreters, bearing in mind the various challenges they might experience
while practicing interpreting.

Among the remarkable points about this book is that it shows how research
in simultaneous interpreting in the former Soviet Union has gained a
considerable amount of interest due to the need to build bridges with
other countries. This resulted in significant contributions like this
book, which can be taken as a distinctive example of how research in
interpreting studies can make use of other disciplines. The author,
Chernov, has gained a wide reputation for his interest in theories of
Psychology and Philosophy, and relating them to the field of interpreting
research. In addition, Chernov conducts an experiment with the aim of
supporting the assumption of his book, namely the existence of message
probability anticipation, which Chernov views as the basis of the
simultaneous interpreting cognition and which is significantly reliant on
message redundancy. The experiment highlighted the fact that the
performance of simultaneous interpreters is affected by semantically
unfamiliar expressions, which might be syntactically well formed. Chernov
also detected some errors in interpreting that usually happen because they
contradict with background received before in the mind of the
interpreters. This highlights the fact that training courses should
provide multi-contextual and variable courses. This would put the
interpreter in a semi-work environment, which would improve his
performance. The importance of providing this training lies in the fact
that simultaneous interpreting is normally performed in an unfriendly
environment, where the interpreter is required to mediate communication
between two different worlds. Thus, the objective semantic discourse
redundancy of the source language would enable the interpreter to infer
the message of the source language correctly and hence would make his
rendition into the target language more accurate. It will also help the
interpreter to achieve speed and accurate interpretation under normal

Chapter one presents a general discussion of the psychological approach to
simultaneous interpreting research. In this framework, it examines the
characteristics of simultaneous interpreting in comparison with written
translation. In addition, the chapter discusses the research assumptions
for simultaneous interpreting processes. These assumptions include:
(i) simultaneous interpreting proceeds at multi-layered levels, which
underlie different mechanisms including probability and anticipation in
the perception of the source text and also anticipating the production of
the target language;
(ii) dynamic development takes place since the perception and production
in simultaneous interpreting is synchronized and it is a continuous
(iii) cumulative sense perception emerges from the fact that there is a
need to take up the holistic meaning of a given discourse as well as its
contextual background;
(iv) the mental activities that are experienced by the interpreter are
discrete as they represent certain operations over certain units of
meaning and sense.

Also in this chapter, Chernov discusses the object of conducting
simultaneous interpreting from a psychological perspective. In this
regard, he follows the Zimanaya and Vygotsky-Leont'ev School of psychology
theories. Thus, he relates the process of interpreting to psychological
concepts like the need and the motive, considering that the interpreter's
intention to absorb and render the message of the speaker to the target
language as an integrated process that comprises both concepts of the need
and the motive. Chernov also argues that the mechanism of verbal,
syntactic and semantic probability anticipation of message development in
the perception and comprehension of the source language discourse, and
anticipatory synthesis in message reproduction in the target language
discourse, is an effective mechanism that would ensure simultaneity in the
process of interpreting.

Chapter two examines the relation between the aspects of speed, memory and
simultaneity and how the relation among them is quite interactive. Chernov
also discusses the concept of simultaneity and he comes to the conclusion
that simultaneous interpreting is relatively instant as there can be some
lag in the target language discourse due to number of constraints imposed
on the interpreter. Time and pace of the speaker are among these
constraints, however it is generally known that the interpreter adapts
himself to the pace of the speaker till he reaches an optimal rate in the
target language that can capture the amount of information included in the
source language.

Chapter three discusses the semantic and pragmatic structure of discourse.
Chernov presents a survey of the different types of meaning and the role
of the word as a semantic unit and what types of meaning it might have. He
also defines some lexical relations e.g. polysemy and synonymy.
Componential analysis of meaning and semantic agreement are reviewed. In
his analysis, Chernov indicates that he will follow two principles of
semantics: (1) semantic components of word meaning and (2) understanding
the rules that combine the semantic components together. Chernov also
reviews the concept of semantic redundancy in discourse and how it
represents a key factor, which underlies the psycholinguistic mechanism of
message probability anticipation.

In chapter four, Chernov presents a general discussion of semantic
structure and objective semantic redundancy. Firstly, he reviews the
concept of sense and its role in the realm of meaning. In this context,
sense is conceptualised as the product of interactive communicative
situations, which have been conducted by a creative mental effort. Thus,
sense is the final output of a word being used in different communicative
situations. Secondly, the concept of theme ~V rheme and its role in
communicative foregrounding is investigated. Thirdly, Chernov examines the
semantic structure of discourse and how such structure is based on an
integrated network of denotative meanings. This network represents an
array of mental representations of entities, images and experiences that
shape the external world in our minds. Finally, the chapter ends by
discussing how semantic structure represents the object and the product of
simultaneous interpreting. That is, the semantic structure of the source
language discourse represents the object of simultaneous interpreting,
while rendering this object into the target language discourse represents
the product of the interpreting process.

Chapter five discusses communicative context and subjective redundancy.
The main activity of an interpreter is to construe messages and draw
inferences from these messages according to his extra-linguistic knowledge
of the world where a given communicative took place. Thus, inferring the
implicit meaning of an utterance is an essential process without which the
rendition of meaning cannot be successful. Having realized this, Chernov
reviews linguistic, cognitive situational and pragmatic inference and
shows how significant it is for an interpreter to be aware of the
different levels of inference, and most importantly of the different
contexts in which these inferences occur redundantly. According to
Chernov, this aspect of redundancy is an essential and adequate condition
for the process of the psychological mechanism of message development
probability anticipation, which enables the interpreter to precisely
receive and comprehend the message.

Chapter 6 presents the model of probability anticipation for simultaneous
interpreting which Chernov develops in this book. He assumes that the
basic mechanism which makes simultaneous interpreting possible is
probability anticipation of the development of the message. This
assumption finds its roots in the Theory of Activity in the Russian school
of psychology, which embraces the idea that mental activity, and
especially perception, is driven by a basic principle of anticipatory
reflection of reality. The basic assumptions in this theory are derived
from Anokhin (1978), who claims that human beings develop a certain
mechanism that enables them to anticipate all life experiences which they
have previously had. According to Anokhin, all living beings acquire
adaptive characteristics that help them get familiar with the new life
experiences that they may undergo and thus they can anticipate the
appropriate way of dealing with them. Chernov relates this assumption to
the fact that the interpreter brain generates hypotheses in anticipation
of certain verbal and semantic developments of the discourse. The
interpreter builds his assumptions on the subconscious subjective
estimations of the set of probabilities within a certain semantic
situation. The probability anticipation mechanism includes the following
hierarchy: Syllable-word- syntagm-utterance-discourse.

Chapter seven presents a discussion of theme and the tendency of the
interpreter to compress it while the discourse develops during the process
of interpreting. This springs from the fact that there is redundancy in
the theme as the discourse unfolds and thus the interpreter tends to
compress his themes to make his sentences shorter to keep up with the pace
of the source language discourse. Chernov gives illustrative examples of
redundancy in Spanish public speaking and ends the chapter by reviewing
types of speech compression in simultaneous interpreting. This compression
can be syllabic, lexical, syntactic and semantic, which makes it an
effective device for the interpreter to save time and effort in

Chapter eight examines the concept of rheme and information density. The
basic principle here is that the brains of human beings are provided with
a neurophysiological mechanism that allows them to perceive data from the
external world as a way of measuring information. That is, there are
certain sections in the brain that store and process information whenever
needed. This principle can be seen as similar to Relevance Theory by
Sperber & Wilson (1986/1995) which assumes that human communication is
based on "ostensive stimulus". This stimulus is responsible for passing
relevant messages to the hearer who in his turn would process it and infer
the relevant meaning. By the same token, the interpreter's main objective
is to infer the intended meaning of the speaker in any type of discourse.
Also in this chapter, Chernov reviews the concept of the dominant rheme in
political discourse, as the objective of the speaker in politics is not
only passing the message to the audience but also convincing them of his
argument. Doing this, the speaker in a political context does not only
inform but also wants to impose his values on the audience. Therefore,
Chernov examines the role of the interpreter in mediating evaluative
messages, which puts another pressure on the interpreter as he has to
choose the correct synonym that can render accurately all the evaluative
components intended by the speaker.

Chapter nine presents a discussion of syntax and communicative order as it
is known that word order varieties can have immense effect on the process
of interpreting. Chernov provides illustrative examples in Russian on the
variation of word order and how the interpreter has to wait while
interpreting until the rheme of the utterance in the source language is
completed. Then, the interpreter starts placing the different constituents
of the utterance according to the word order of the source language.

In chapter ten, Chernov presents detailed discussion of Anokhin's theory
of Activity, which was highlighted earlier, and its value in simultaneous
interpreting. According to this theory, human beings develop a functional
system that stores our experiences about the whole world around us. This
system has a structure of its own that defines its mechanism of action,
and it also underlies all actions in all life situations. According to
Chernov, Anokhin's theory agrees with simultaneous interpretation in all
its processes. He assumes that the probability anticipation model which he
developed earlier can be taken as an example of a specific functional
system that is established by the human mechanism to enable him to perform
simultaneous interpreting.

Chapter eleven presents an experiment to test how a method of anticipation
in interpreting can help the interpreter to figure out the intended
meaning of the message. Chernov wanted to prove from this experiment that
the mechanism of developing an approach of probability anticipation can
act as an effective model for a better performance at both the vocal and
the semantic levels. He also tried to show that his results confirm his

Chapter twelve concludes that it would be more productive and effective to
apply the method of probability anticipation in interpreting as it helps
to develop the spontaneous response of the interpreter, which would
guarantee an effective rendition of the message. Chernov also recommends
that training courses should focus on developing the linguistic skills of
the interpreter to ensure a good performance in dealing with the target
language discourse.


I find this book a rich and comprehensive contribution to the field of
interpreting research. What is most significant about Chernov's work is
that it tries to explore the link between psychological theories and the
practice of simultaneous interpretation as a bilingual activity that is
performed under pressure. Understanding the psychological aspects that
surround the process of interpreting would help us to control the
performance of the interpreter and probably train him to cope with the
psychological burden he undergoes while interpreting.

It is also noteworthy that this book sheds light on the Russian school of
research in the field of interpreting which, as it seems, might have a lot
to contribute in this emerging field of research. However, the book is
written in a style and tone of English which sometimes feels a
little 'heavy', however this may well be attributed to the fact that it
was originally written in Russian.

Finally, this book can be considered as a useful reference for those
interested in inter-disciplinary studies in general and interpreting
research in particular. It is also a good source for professional
interpreters and their trainers as it would help them develop more tactics
in the interpreting process and also some useful skills that can help to
improve their performance.


Anokhin, P.K. (1978) Philosophical Aspects of the Functional System
Theory, Moscow (In Russian)

Chernov, G. V. (1979) Semantic aspects of psychological research in
simultaneous interpretation. Language and speech 22, 277-295

Liu, Minhua, Schallert, Diane L. and Carroll, P. J. (2004) Working
memories and expertise in simultaneous interpreting, Interpreting 6:1, 19-

Schaffner, Christina (ed.) (2004) Translation Research and Interpreting
Research, Clevendon (England): Multilingual Matters.

Sperber, D. & Wilson, D. (1986/1995) Relevance: Communication and
Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.


Ihab A. Shabana is a Ph.D. candidate at Al-Azhar-Egypt and SOAS, has a
B.A. in Simultaneous Interpreting (English & Arabic) and an M.A. in
Linguistics, was Assistant Lecturer of Linguistics-Al-Azhar and Visiting
Research Student at SOAS in 2002-2004, and is now on full- time teaching
post of Arabic at SOAS. Areas of interest include Pragmatics, Political
Discourse, Sociolinguistics and Translation studies.