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Review of  Self-Preservation in Simultaneous Interpreting

Reviewer: Wu Zhiwei
Book Title: Self-Preservation in Simultaneous Interpreting
Book Author: Claudia Monacelli
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 21.1704

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AUTHOR: Claudia Monacelli
TITLE: Self-Preservation in Simultaneous Interpreting
SUBTITLE: Surviving the role
SERIES TITLE: Benjamins Translation Library 84
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2009

Wu Zhiwei, Faculty of English Language and Culture, Guangdong University of
Foreign Studies


The history of Interpreting Studies is relatively shorter than that of
translation studies, but interpreting practice can be traced back to old times.
In years of practicing interpretation, interpreters are usually sandwiched
between the source-text (ST) speakers and the target-text (TT) listeners.
Whenever translational shifts occur, many interpreters are reduced to scapegoats
and wronged by the ignorance and misconception assumed on the parts of speakers,
audience and even interpreter-hiring agencies. To shed more light on the
understanding of interpreters' alignment-altering behaviors, this volume
examines the real-time performance of ten professional interpreters and
justifies the self-regulatory behaviors that interpreters apply to face the
potential and/or obvious threats that would otherwise endanger their profession.
The study is corpus-based, descriptive and analytical, with the theoretical
groundings of autopoiesis, participation framework, interactional politeness,
systemic norms in interpreting and more. Building on this, the study shows and
explains how and why conference interpreters tend to increase the distance,
lessen the directness and mitigate the illocutionary force in translational
shifts. A dynamic equilibrium is put forward to place the translational shifts
into perspective.


Chapter 1 introduces the basics of the study, including the working hypotheses,
aims of the study, methodology, research issues and the structure and components
of the volume. The author bases her study on the premise that ''[any]
professional behavior [...] will aim to maximize professional survival.'' (p. 5)
She also explains that the twin aims of the study are to investigate the effects
of self-regulation on the behavior of interpreters and ''to establish some
explanatory and predictive principles'' (p. 5) that are (re)occurring in the
professional norms of conference interpreters. With these aims, she lays out her
four research questions as follow: ''1. Does simultaneous interpreting (SI), as a
discourse activity, show signs of particular alignment-altering phenomena? 2. Is
there evidence of face-saving strategies at work in professional performances?
3. What different roles are assumed by interpreters? 4. To what degree are
interpreters aware of their behavior during performances?'' (p. 7).

Chapter 2 adopts a constructivist viewpoint to explain interpreting as a system
and norm-governing activity. The author first examines the norms set out by
professional associations and then she expounds on the historical development of
interpreting norms. She reviews Inghilleri's study and Diriker's work to explain
that interpreting is a normative behavior and the norm observed from her study
is that personal (professional) survival, when at stake, may trigger
alignment-altering strategies (p. 15, p. 18). She also asserts that the reason
why interpreting behavior is face-threatening in nature is two-fold: one being
the seeming non-presence of the interpreters and the other being their adoption
of the speaker's ''I''. In the same chapter, she relates to the cultural turn of
translation/interpretation studies, which leads to the discussion of power
differentiation in interpreting contexts. With this, she brings forward the
notion that power and ideology should be taken into consideration when the norm
is professed and dynamic equilibrium should be adopted as a working ethic in the
face of professional threats.

In Chapter 3, the author explains explicitly her research methodology and the
details of the corpus. Her research design consists of four parts: performance
data, briefing, textual analysis (inclusive of stance, voice and face) and
debriefing. With regards to the corpus, ten professional interpreters'
performances are observed, and ten texts of source material with a total length
of 119 minutes and the simultaneously interpreted texts thereof are under the
author's scrutiny. As the author points out, reliability and validity are thus
secured by the choice of subjects who are seasoned interpreters working in their
habitual venue, and by extensive textual analysis.

In Chapter 4, the author first reviews autopoietic theory and applies this
theory to describe the interpreting system as an autopoietic one, characteristic
of being adaptive, self-reflexive, and self-regulating. Based on this, she puts
forward the conceptual model of the ''Dynamics of text instantiation'', which
explains the ''pattern of organization'' and ''discourse structure'' of a text (p.
51). She further suggests that an oral text in SI should subordinate all changes
to the maintenance of its own organization. Therefore, interpreters would
subordinate all activities to the preservation of their professional face (p.
53). But the success of these self-regulatory behaviors is subject to consistent
standards, on-going monitor engagement and enactment of personal agency.

Chapter 5 places interpreter-mediated events into perspectives of
contextualization, a participation framework and interactional politeness. The
author distinguishes the internal (structural) context and the external
(interpersonal) context and put forwards a model to analyze contextual shifts,
which are best carried out through the examination of personal reference,
patterns of transitivity and politeness. By contextualizing the interpreting
events, the author applies the participation framework to the domain of
interpreting and identifies the interactional patterns among source text
speaker, interpreter and his or her team member, source text receivers and
target text receivers. Within the domains of interpreter-mediated communication,
face-threatening acts are present towards interpreters and text receivers. Given
this situation, interpreters would adopt self-regulatory actions to save the
face of the potential sufferers.

In Chapter 6, the author presents her major findings and examines stance, voice
and face with abundant examples from her corpus. She argues that the
interpreting performance in the corpus manifests a trend of detachment in stance
and of indirectness in voice. She then advances a power differential graph,
where the [-direct/+distance] quadrant suggests greater power differential
between communicating parties. Central to this chapter, she goes into details in
the examination of the three previously mentioned parameters. In terms of stance
(personal reference), she finds that ''of all the 188 shifts in personal deixis
in target texts, 64% display a [distance] trend'' (p. 95). As far as voice
(transitivity patterns and agency) is concerned, 54% of the shifts are of
[-direct] trend. As to mood and modality, 69% involve a [-direct] move. In
examination of a speaker's face-work, the author highlights four moves, namely,
omissions (41%), additions (32%), weakeners (17%) and strengtheners (10%). She
finds out that of all the moves, 57% of omissions, 53% of additions and all the
weakening moves mitigate illocutionary force, while 43% of omissions, 47% of
additions and all the strengthening moves strengthen illocutionary force. This
again testifies to the major trend of detachment, indirectness and mitigation of
illocutionary force in SI.

Chapter 7 answers the four research questions by discussing the findings and
proposing an explanatory hypothesis. The author integrates face threatening acts
into the participation framework and points out two perceived threats which
interpreters react to: one to ST receivers and one to interpreters themselves.
In enacting the self-regulatory behaviors to counteract threats, interpreters
are constantly positioning themselves in the spectrum with both ends of
professional survival (relaying/replaying) and personal survival
(author/principal). Lying in between the two ends is the inter dimension, where
interpreters tend not to perceive themselves as a different unity from the ST
speaker and thus ''create an illusion of operating 'exactly like' the ST speaker''
(p. 141). But the author argues that ''the interpreter must move from this
dimension either into a personal or a professional one'' (p. 143). That is why
interpreters generally present a trend towards distancing, indirectness and
mitigation of illocutionary force. Based on this, the author proposes an
explanatory hypothesis that dynamic equilibrium is a guiding principle behind an
interpreter's operational awareness (p. 147). The detachment and indirectness
trend is a normative process that the interpreting system will enact when it is
perturbed by external situations. To tap into the operational awareness, the
author undertook a retrospective study, which leads to the confirmation that
''all subjects recognize their moves as self-regulatory in nature'' (p. 153) and
the magnitude of this awareness is particularly linked to membership in a
professional association.

In the final chapter, the author reinstates her findings and points out the
problems in briefing/debriefing and textual analysis, limitations in ''corpus
size, language pairs, the difference in text types examined and their variety in
length'' (p. 160), relevance and implication for further studies. She notes that
the study ''contributes to the self-regulation of the discipline of Interpreting
Studies'' (p. 160) and that further research should focus on the conflict between
norm-based behavior and quality standards, on substantiating the dynamic
equilibrium with qualitative research, on the interrelationships between the
components of the interpreting system and finally on the definition of a new
professional ethic.


This book offers insights into the common translational shifts that invariably
take place on the part of interpreters. These shifts are analyzed in terms of
stance, voice and face in great detail, and relevant examples are frequently
cited to justify the author's fundamental claim that interpreters will
subordinate all changes in the interpreting activity for the good of protecting
professional face. This book is, therefore, informative, thought-provoking and
illuminating in understanding conference interpreters' alignment-altering
behaviors. Added to the significance of the present study is the revealed trend
of detachment and indirectness on the part of conference interpreters when
dealing with threatening acts. This is truly helpful for target text receivers
and interpreter users in particular to understand the normative behaviors of
interpreters so that they will no longer take it for granted that interpreters
are merely parroting and working as a ''translation machine''. Readers will go
beyond the long predominant perspective of the interpreter as an entity in
function and into an emerging perspective of the interpreter as a person in
interaction. This volume is highly contributory to the study of ''cultural turn''
and thereafter ''power turn'' within the interpreting domain, as advocated by
Cronin (2002).

Despite its many merits, the study is not without its problems. First, readers
cannot help but notice that the author, when paraphrasing her claims, shifts
between ''professional survival'' (p. 5, p. 53, p. 67 and more) and ''personal
survival'' (p. 15, p. 26, p. 143 and more). As the author distinguishes
''professional survival'' from ''personal survival'' and discusses these two
concepts in Chapter 7, it is necessary for the author to clarify whether
self-regulatory behaviors in SI are tailored by either ''professional survival''
or ''personal survival'', or by both.

Secondly, the author admits that ''subjects view the request itself to
participate in a study (i.e. agreeing to have their performance recorded and
analyzed) as face-threatening'' (p. 160). Given the subjects' awareness of their
performances being recorded and the face-threatening nature thereof, would
subjects involved in this study tend to overreact in the interpreting and
display a greater [+distance and –direct] trend, which would have been otherwise
less salient? Again, would the author's imposition of recording the performance
serve as a constant intervention to the interpreting system and due to the
autopoiesic nature of the system, the subject interpreters would be overly
reactive/adaptive to the external context? If so, it will immediately leave the
validity of the study less secured.

Moreover, the issue of norm and ethics and the pedagogical implication thereof
must be discussed here. Interpreting is viewed as a system and this system,
according to the writer, will subordinate translational changes towards
professional/personal survival. But this norm is not yet universally agreed upon
and some still hold that interpreting performance should be loyal to the
speakers' delivery. The norm claimed by the author is more tolerant of changes
and entitles interpreters to power, while the opposing norm views changes as
unacceptable and constrains interpreters' power. Given these conflicting norms,
which one should interpreters, especially budding interpreters, follow? As the
writer believes that self-regulatory behavior is hampered by conflicting
standards, interpreting trainees and fresh interpreters will be confused as to
which norm to subscribe to. Again, because of the fact that ''translational
operational norms are evident in the pedagogic content of training institutes''
(p. 19), should institutions, when training their interpreting students, make an
either-or choice between self-regularity and fidelity? Or is there a compromised
and balanced choice that accommodates the two ''ideologies''?

Finally, a few words about the universality and particularity of the power
differentiation among cultures are worth mentioning here. As Gentzler points
out, ''[...] translators invariably conform to certain standards and differ from
others. What might be socially or politically progressive in one time and place
may be the reverse in other situations'' (2002:197). Since the subjects in the
author's study all come from European countries, is it possible that
interpreters in these countries are left with more freedom/choices and are
subject to fewer socio-economic constraints, whereas interpreters in
underprivileged regions would be left no choice but to bear with the threats.
This is because speakers in these cultures are believed to be the only authority
and any adapted or altered rendition of the ST will put interpreters into a
dangerous position. What's worse, interpreters may risk the loss of the job and
even being banished from the career. Given this possibility, it seems that the
author may want to redefine the term of ''professional/personal survival''
fashioned against the cultural background. The face and the social and
economical factors that underpin interpreting are all ''life or death'' issues in
interpreters' concerns, which merit further studies from the research community.


Cronin, M. 2002. ''The Empire talks back: Orality, heteronomy and cultural turn
in interpreting studies.'' In Translation and Power, Maria Tymoczko and Edwin
Gentzler (eds.), 45-62. University of Massachusetts Press.
Gentzler, E. 2002. ''Translation, Poststructuralism, and Power.'' In Translation
and Power, Maria Tymoczko and Edwin Gentzler (eds.), 195-218. University of
Massachusetts Press.

WU Zhiwei is currently an Assistant Lecturer in Faculty of English Language and Culture, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. He is the chapter contributor and co-author of two interpreting course books and also a practicing conference interpreter, accredited by China Accreditation Test for Translators and Interpreters (CATTI).