Self-preservation in simultaneous interpreting

Self-preservation in simultaneous interpreting: Surviving the role. By Claudia Monacelli.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. Pp. xxi, 182. ISBN 9789027224286. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Diana Gorman Jamrozik, Columbia College Chicago

This book posits that simultaneous interpreting is essentially an unstable, face-threatening environment, and thus interpreters exhibit behaviors that serve to mediate and mitigate perceived threats to face. The book includes a preface, eight chapters, a reference list, and a short glossary of terms.

Ch. 1 ‘Introduction’ (1–8) presents an overview of M’s hypothesis and research questions. In Ch. 2 ‘Interpreting as a system’ (9–27), M argues that interpretation is largely an autonomous system, and seeks to define the norms that interpreters follow. She discusses research related to norms of practice and ethical norms.

Ch. 3 ‘Methodology and corpus’ (29–40) details the design of M’s investigation. She studied the interpretations of ten conference interpreters, each with a minimum of eleven years of experience. Data compilation consisted of four parts: collecting work samples from actual interpreting settings, gathering information on the interpreters’ experience and work philosophies, analyzing the interpretations, and debriefing with the interpreters to ascertain their perceptions of the findings.

Chs. 4 and 5 lay the theoretical groundwork for M’s study. In Ch. 4, ‘From system dynamics onward’ (41–60), M reviews the literature on autopoietic theory and systems dynamics and contends that interpretation is an autopoietic, or self-contained, system. Ch. 5 ‘Simultaneous interpreting as communicative interaction’ (61–85) identifies past research on the context of interpreting, participation framework, and interactional politeness. M argues that during an assignment, interpreters maintain consciousness of both their own work and the larger situation in which simultaneous interpreting occurs.

Ch. 6 ‘Participation framework and interactional politeness in corpus’ (87–131) details M’s analysis of shifts in stance, voice, and face between the source texts and target texts in her corpus. She found that all ten interpreters shift from deictic forms in the target text, and out of 188 total shifts, sixty-four percent of the shifts are from a personal to impersonal deictic reference during their interpretations, thus conveying a greater sense of distance in the target text. Analysis of voice in target texts looks at agency. M finds that out of ninety-four agency shifts in her corpus, fifty-four percent of the shifts denote a less direct agency in the target text than was found in the source text (for example, a shift from I do… to one does…). Finally, M looks at face in target texts by examining when the illocutionary force, or impact of a text on an audience, is either heightened or mitigated by an interpreter. M found a total of 162 shifts in illocutionary force and that sixty-nine percent of the shifts lessened the force of a statement.

In Ch. 7, ‘Discussion’ (133–54), M notes that the major finding of her research is that in the entire target texts studied, perceived threats to face—either to the target text audience or to the interpreter—were at times mitigated. Upon debriefing, interpreters acknowledged that this was a conscious choice. M hypothesizes that interpreters do this in attempt to maintain a dynamic equilibrium during simultaneous interpretation. Ch. 8 ‘Conclusion’ (155–65) ends by listing shortcomings with the research and offering suggestions for further study.

M offers a frank look at the myth of infallibility of simultaneous interpretation, and both practitioners and educators should find this work relevant and insightful.