Structural challenges in English>Arabic simultaneous interpreting

Aladdin Al Zahran


This article reports on an empirical investigation into language-specific factors and strategies pertaining to syntactic asymmetry in English>Arabic simultaneous interpreting. It discusses the disparity between subject-verb-object (S-initial) and verb-subject-object (V-initial) structures when complicated by long and/or complex initial subjects in the source language (SL). These types of complex initial structures in the subject position significantly delay the verb that is normally needed to start sentences in Arabic. I hypothesise that professionals are more likely to follow SL structures to cope with complex initial subjects and avoid memory overload, information loss or failure. I propose that they do so using what I refer to as the strategy of not waiting for the verb, utilising Arabic word-order flexibility which offers nominal clause structures similar to the English S-initial structure. Three English speeches from real-life conference settings were analysed. The analysis focused on English sentences with complex initial subjects and their different renditions in multiple authentic Arabic simultaneous interpretations. The results of the analysis and fidelity assessment supported my hypothesis in relation to strategy and “language-pair specificity”, indicating a preference for “form-based processing”. The analysis also supported the difficulty of interpreting complex initial subjects. The strategy of not waiting for the verb was found to contribute to greater completeness and accuracy, albeit the latter to a lesser extent. It can be proposed as a complementary strategy to ‘waiting’, ‘lagging’, ‘restructuring’, ‘anticipation’, and so on. This approach could enhance (would-be) interpreters’ repertoire of potentially useful options, particularly when other approaches may lead to memory overload, omission or information failure.



language-pair specificity; syntactic asymmetry; interpreting strategies; S-initial and V-initial structures; complex initial subjects; Arabic simultaneous interpreting

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