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Review of  Eyetracking and Applied Linguistics

Reviewer: Asmaa Shehata
Book Title: Eyetracking and Applied Linguistics
Book Author: Silvia Hansen-Schirra Sambor Grucza
Publisher: Language Science Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 28.3844

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“Eyetracking and Applied Linguistics” edited by Silvia Hansen-Schirra and Sambor Grucza is comprised of selected papers from the first International Conference on Eyetracking and Applied Linguistics (ICEAL), which brings together researchers who use eyetracking in their empirical translation and corpora studies. In addition to the introduction (Chapter 1), this volume includes three main parts: audiovisual translation (Chapters 2, 3, and 4), post-editing of machine translation output (Chapters 5 and 6), and comprehensibility and usability (Chapters 7 and 8).

In Chapter 1, Silvia Hansen-Schirra and Sambor Grucza underline that the chief purpose of the volume is to shed light on the three major topics introduced in the ICEAL by researchers in various disciplines: Applied Linguistics, Translation Studies, and Computational Linguistics and Cognitive Science, in an attempt to bridge the gaps between these four fields. The chapter briefly sketches, on one hand, the contents of the volume highlighting the main research questions, and on the other hand, the significance and contribution of each article.

Part One of this book comprises three articles on audiovisual translation studies. In Chapter 2, entitled “Integrated titles: An improved viewing experience?”, Wendy Fox tests the possible influence of subtitle placement and design on viewers’ reading times and perception of an image. As defined by Bayram & Bayraktar (2012), integrated titles refer to text information incorporated directly into the picture. Using eyetracking and questionnaires, the author compares the performance of native English speakers (N=14) and native German (N=31) speakers in two groups. One group watches the English film with traditional subtitles (N=15), and the other group watches the same movie with integrated subtitles (N=16). The results display the positive influence of the integrated subtitles that decrease viewers’ average reading time than the traditional subtitles and also enable them to focus more on the images in between titles. The article concludes with an illustration of the results’ practical implications and directions for future research.

In Chapter 3, “Crazy Japanese subtitles? Shedding light on the impact of impact captions with a focus on research methodology”, Minako O’Hagan and Ryoko Sasamoto present an explorative study that examines the influence of TV impact captions on the viewers’ reactions and responses using eye tracking methodology. The authors start with a brief description of the impact captions that refer to the use of multimodal and dynamic textual inserts to enhance the viewer experience. This term was first introduced by Park (2009) and has become an essential part of various Japanese entertainment TV programs revealing their major benefits and previous eye-tracking studies. Subsequently, O’Hagan and Sasamoto describe their pilot study in which 12 Japanese university students are instructed to watch an extract from a popular TV Japanese program (Honme Dekka broadcast ‘Is It Really True?) that lasts for 22 minutes and 29 seconds while wearing an eye-tracker. Participants also complete a questionnaire afterward in which they answer questions about their viewing habits and preferences regarding the program content. The results show fewer viewer fixations on the captions area and more fixations on the images in the middle of the screen. The authors conclude with a discussion of limitations and directions for future research.

In Chapter 4, “Subtitles vs. narration: The acquisition of information from visual-verbal and audio-verbal channels when watching a television documentary”, Juha Láng experimentally examines viewers’ reception of a subtitled television documentary about Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate that lasts for about seven minutes. Specifically, Láng looks at the efficiency of subtitles in comparison to narration in two experiments. In the first experiment, 14 native Finnish speakers with no knowledge of Russian and 20 native Russian speakers are asked to watch a short Russian documentary narrative with Finnish subtitles and answer questions about the contents of the video in the subsequent questionnaire that includes 29 open-ended questions in Finnish. While Russian speakers attained higher scores in all subtitle-related questions, Finnish natives were better in the image-related questions. Experiment 2, however, examines how the two groups differ in information acquisition using the same video and questionnaire. Unlike Experiment 1, the questionnaire is presented in both Finnish and Russian, that are paired with eye tracking methodology where the eye movements of 20 native Finnish speakers with no Russian knowledge and 13 native Russian speakers are tracked with SMI (SensoMotoric Instruments) Eye Tracking Glasses 2.0. The results indicate that the Russian group makes fewer glances to the subtitle area than the Finnish group, and no significant differences are found between the two groups regarding the image processing. Láng concludes that subtitles are not distracting and could help viewers acquire information from subtitled programs.

Part II discusses machine translation output post-editing. In Chapter 5, “Monolingual post-editing: An exploratory study on research behaviour and target text quality”, Jean Nitzke reports on her empirical study that examines the monolingual post-editing (MPE) for English-German machine translation using eye-tracking methodology. The author describes a number of experiments that were done at the University of Mainz in which 12 semi-professional and 12 professional translators translated two texts from scratch, monolingually post- edit and bilingually post-edit. In addition, all participants completed a Likert questionnaire regarding their satisfaction about the post-editing tasks in which each question was accompanied by five choices: highly satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neutral, somewhat dissatisfied and highly dissatisfied. While findings show some similarities between scratch, bilingual post-edited texts and MPE translations regarding grammar and spelling errors, MPE translations are found to use different research patterns and efforts.

In Chapter 6, “Investigating cognition effort in post-editing: A relevance-theoretical approach”, Fabio Alves, Karina Sarto Szpak, José Luiz Gonçalves, Kyoko Sekino, Marceli Aquino, Rodrigo Araújo e Castro, Arlene Koglin, Norma B. de Lima Fonseca, and Bartolomé Mesa-Lao report on their study investigating how post-editing tasks are influenced by the cognitive effort in two web-based workbenches: interactive machine translation (IMT) and non-interactive machine translation (MT). To this end, 16 Brazilian translators post-edit into Brazilian Portuguese two source texts in English about pharmacological products’ results. The eye tracking data display that interactive and non-interactive machine translations involve different cognitive processes. Alves and colleagues demonstrate that the facilitating effect found in the interactive condition is related to the reduction in cognitive processes on one hand and the reduction in mechanical operation of typing on the other hand. Future research is encouraged to thoroughly explore post-editors’ behaviour.

Part III includes two chapters that address the inquiries of usability and comprehensibility. Due to the significance of eye tracking technology in usability research, Chapter 7, “Eye tracking and beyond: The dos and don’ts of creating a contemporary usability lab”, Christopher Rösener starts with a presentation of several prevailing definitions of the term ‘usability’ in order to clarify its meaning. The author prefers to use Jakob Nielson’s (1998) broader definition that covers expansive range of potential research interests for the existing usability lab. The chapter then focuses on introducing the major challenges and difficulties in using eyetracking technology for usability studies highlighting the fundamental common theoretical and practical mistakes (such as experiment design, setup, and equipment issues) as well as recommendations. Rösener finally concludes with a brief description of the usability laboratory at Flensburg University of Applied Sciences, noteworthy concluding remarks and directions for future research.

In Chapter 8, “The impact of nominalisations on the reading process: A case-study using the freiburg legalese reading corpus”, Sascha Wolfer examines how jurisdictional texts, which are well known for their complex structures, are processed by readers using eye tracking technology. In this regard, he explores how nominalisations are pronounced and whether they are more difficult to process than normal nouns. The results demonstrate that nominalisations are associated with slower comprehension processes that can be less challenging if nominalisations are replaced with verbal structures. In his conclusion, Wolfer encourages further research that explores readers’ mental representation of jurisdictional texts as well as developing novel tests that measure the comprehension processes’ outcome.


This book presents an informative set of articles that provide a thorough overview of recent eye tracking research. As the editors explain in Chapter 1, the articles present current empirical investigations that employ eye tracking methodology. Each article is very detailed and provides sufficient background information, clear definitions of all technical terms, and solid, rigorous methodology. Therefore, the articles are easily understandable and include extensive relevant references. All the contributions are not only interesting reads; many of them, in particular Chapter 7, are very important to translation and eye tracking research. At large, the chapters are mostly stand-alone contributions that look at the use of eyetracking in translation and post-editing research. Thus, the chapters can be read in any order.

One negative aspect of the book is its title, which I find misleading because it does not accurately present the book’s contents. In fact, most of the articles (five out of seven) primarily focus on translation issues.

Overall, this book is a valuable source that both students and researchers can consult for directions of current eye tracking research as related to translation and text corpora. However, the reader should have a certain familiarity with eye tracking before reading it.
Asmaa Shehata, is a faculty at the University of Calgary, Linguistics, Languages and Cultures Department. Her research interests include second language phonology with particular focus on cross-language speech perception and production.