Interpreters’ notes: on the choice of language

Interpreters’ notes: on the choice of language


This post reports on a small-scale empirical study on note-taking in consecutive interpreting. As data, the study draws on the notes produced by four subjects while interpreting one Spanish source text consecutively into Danish, on the one hand, and one Danish source text into Spanish, on the other.

The aim of the study is to explore what governs conference interpreters’ choice of language for their notes. The categories traditionally used to discuss, describe and explain this choice are those of source language and target language, and these categories are therefore subject to particular scrutiny here.

Helle V. Dam, Aarhus School of Business

Those who recommend using the target language do so basically for two reasons: for one thing, the target-language option logically forces the interpreter to move away from the surface form of the incoming speech and should therefore ensure better processing of the speech; for another, writing in the target language is thought to facilitate production of the target speech.

Business colleagues having meeting in conference room in modern office

The relatively smaller group of authors who question the TL recommendation tend to do so on the grounds that writing notes in the target language requires language conversion during note-taking and therefore adds to the number of functions that the interpreter has to perform during the listening phase — a phase characterized by being paced by the speaker, unlike the production phase, and theoretically also by a higher degree of complexity, insofar as it is assumed to comprise more capacity-consuming components than the production phase .

In spite of this fundamental disagreement on the question of language choice, there is general agreement that the relevant categories when it comes to talking about the language of interpreters’ notes are those of source language and target language.

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