Pragmatic Competence in Chinese-English Retour Interpreting of Political Speeches

A Corpus-Driven Exploratory Study of Pragmatic Markers

By Jun Pan (Hong Kong Baptist University, PRC) and Billy T. M. Wong (The Open University of Hong Kong, PRC)

Abstract & Keywords

Retour interpreting has often been regarded a controversial practice due to language idiomaticity concerns. Nevertheless, in political and diplomatic settings, such a practice is unavoidable, which poses great challenges to interpreter training. Interpreting for high profile politicians and state leaders is extremely formidable since interpreters need to demonstrate a high level of linguistic command and pragmatic competence in a B (non-native) language. Despite the importance of pragmatic competence in political retour interpreting, little empirical evidence has been provided as to its ‘what’ and ‘how’ in interpreter training. This study, exploratory in nature, aims to address these issues. It focuses on the use of pragmatic markers (PMs), a parameter revealing the quality of political interpreting at the pragmatic level and reflecting the pragmatic competence of interpreters. The use of a set of PMs was examined, including syntactic markers, lexical markers, contrastive makers, and elaborative markers. A comparison of PM use in English speeches by high profile politicians and that in Chinese-to-English interpreted political speeches was conducted based on two corpora: the Corpus of Interpreted Political Speeches from Chinese to English (CIPSCE) and the Corpus of English Political Speeches (CEPS). Findings of the study suggest a general underuse of most PMs, in particular syntactic markers and lexical markers, in the CIPSCE than in the CEPS, whereas the patterns of contrastive markers and elaborative markers seem to be more complicated. The findings help to advance the development of pragmatic competence in interpreter training, by highlighting the areas of improvement in political retour interpreting.

Keywords: retour interpreting, political, pragmatic competence, pragmatic markers, corpus study, interpreter training

©inTRAlinea & Jun Pan (Hong Kong Baptist University, PRC) and Billy T. M. Wong (The Open University of Hong Kong, PRC) (2019).
"Pragmatic Competence in Chinese-English Retour Interpreting of Political Speeches A Corpus-Driven Exploratory Study of Pragmatic Markers"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2415

1. Political retour interpreting

1.1. Retour interpreting

Interpreting into a B language, or a non-mother-tongue, has often been a controversial issue in interpreting practice. The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC 2012) classifies the languages that interpreters work in (interpreters’ working languages) into A, B and C languages. An interpreter’s B language is roughly described as ‘a language in which the interpreter is perfectly fluent, but is not a mother tongue’ (cf. A language) (ibid., emphasis in the original). The practice of A-to-B interpreting is also named as ‘retour interpreting’ (Pöchhacker 2004). 

Despite the lack of a measurable definition of a B language (EMCI 2002; Gile 2005), there seems to be a consensus among practitioners and researchers that interpreting into a B language, as a language generally assumed to be weaker than one’s A language (mother tongue), may be problematic and thus unfavourable in formal interpreting settings, in particular conference interpreting in a simultaneous mode (see Pöchhacker 2004). A-to-B interpreting often faces challenges of language quality concerns (Seleskovitch and Lederer 1989), inadequate cultural competence (Lederer 2008), and cognitive ‘weakness’ in B language expression (Donovan 2005).

Gradually, it has been recognised that retour interpreting is sometimes unavoidable or even demanded in formal conference settings (Lim 2005), especially in less-developed interpreting markets, or when the interpreting involves ‘minor languages’ and interpreting into an A language may involve higher expenses (EMCI 2002). E. Wang (2008), comparing his findings of a survey on interpreting into B languages in China with two similar studies in Japan and South Korea, revealed that many interpreters in these three countries had to work from A to B due to a lack of interpreters who are competent in Chinese, Japanese or Korean as a B language. He also indicated that Chinese interpreters had to undertake far more A-to-B interpreting as compared to interpreters in Japan and South Korea. Moreover, in the United Nations, Chinese, in addition to Arabic, is interpreted both from and into while the other four official languages are only interpreted into as A languages (UN 2010). The large differences between Chinese and the other official languages and the difficulty involved in learning the Chinese language may be the main contributors to this plight (ibid.).

Despite the debate on the legitimacy of A-to-B interpreting, there is a consensus among practitioners and researchers that interpreting quality should be maintained ‘whatever the directionality’ (EMCI 2002: 60). Donovan (2005) discussed the importance of language enhancement in training retour interpreters, problems such as interference of the source language beyond the word level, the idiomaticity of expressions, and the appropriate use of register seemed to be marked problems in A-to-B interpreting and worthy of efforts in interpreter training. Lederer (2008), addressing the training of simultaneous interpreting into B languages in China, also indicated the importance of students’ language enhancement beyond the word level. Nevertheless, there is a lack of empirical data about the linguistic peculiarities of A-to-B interpreting.

1.2. Interpreting in political and diplomatic settings

Retour interpreting has been widely applied in political and diplomatic settings since ancient times (Baigorri-Jalón 2015). Most of the early interpreters, trained and immersed in a B language environment, were usually assigned government posts or roles of diplomats/ambassadors and cultural mediators (ibid.). Along with the professionalisation of interpreting, modern political and diplomatic interpreting are usually undertaken by government-hired and in-house-trained interpreters (see FMPRC 2013; US State Department n.d.). These interpreters, often civil servants working for the government, must first of all be citizens of the country of service who pass rigorous linguistic and political tests (ibid.). With the citizenship prerequisite, government interpreters, in addition to B-to-A interpreting, have to undertake A-to-B interpreting and act as the government’s ‘voice’ and ‘ears’ in communication with foreign audiences (ibid.). As a result, the accuracy and quality of the interpreting and language use are highly valued, regardless of directionality.

Situated at the intersection between political and media discourses, political interpreting poses great challenges to the interpreters due to its complicated role as ‘an integral part of political activity’ (Schäffner and Bassnett 2010: 13):

Where foreign policy of individual states is concerned, translation becomes relevant, for example, for delivering speeches during state visits. Translations of such speeches are made available on government or embassy websites, and are sometimes also published in bulletins or the media. In this way, a government can communicate its political aims and decisions to the outside world.

According to Gagnon (2010: 255), political interpreting or translation plays an important role in political discourse and it may even show shifts that ‘had an impact on the target society’.

Due to its significance, political interpreting is often placed under the spotlight of media and political scrutiny, making the task intensive and stressful (Buri 2015). In extreme situations, interpreters may be ‘easily transformed into scapegoats especially when there are misunderstandings or friction between parties — straightforwardly attributed to misinterpretation’ (ibid.: para. 14). Interpreting for high profile politicians and state leaders is particularly formidable due to the tension on site (Pan 2005, 2007).

Therefore, interpreters working in political and diplomatic settings need to demonstrate not only a high level of linguistic command (grammatical competence), but also pragmatic competence, especially when working into a B language (cf. Pan 2005, 2007). Pragmatic competence, in this regard, goes beyond Bachman’s (1990: 98, italised in the original) definition of ‘the types of knowledge which, in addition to organisational competence, are employed in the contextualised performance and interpretation of socially appropriate illocutionary acts in discourse’. It refers to what Taguchi (2017: 161) mentioned as ‘advanced pragmatic competence’ — ‘characterised by the ability to handle a variety of communicative tasks in formal and informal exchanges, or the ability to cope with linguistic challenges stemming from unexpected turns of events’, in addition to ‘cross-cultural adaptability’. Such a competence plays a crucial role in political and diplomatic meetings.

Xu (2000: 38, as in Yang 2012: 16; also cited in Pan and Wong 2018: 169) regards that ‘a diplomatic translator is usually a diplomat, who is required to translate or interpret not only the leaders’ speeches but also their attitude and mood, and even the political atmosphere on the spot’.

Yang (2012: 12; also cited in Pan and Wong 2018: 169) emphasised that diplomatic translators and interpreters should be able to employ the tools of discourse analysis and ‘analyse the political meaning of the diplomatic language by reading between the lines’. X. Wang (2008; also cited in Pan and Wong 2018: 169) called for the employment of a textual perspective in Chinese-to-English translation of political documents, which will help to ensure accuracy and effectiveness in the rendition of meaning.

As indicated in Pan and Wong (2018: 169), previous studies on political interpreting have highlighted its ‘great pragmatic challenges’, and showed that it is important for interpreters to cultivate abilities in pragmatic and discourse analysis (see Xu 2000; X. Wang 2008; Yang 2012). However, not much work has been done to investigate interpreters’ pragmatic strategies in ‘dealing with the challenges of rendering the non-propositional meaning in political and diplomatic settings’ (Pan and Wong 2018: 169), leaving a significant void to fill regarding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of pragmatic competence in political interpreting as well as its training.

2. Pragmatic markers and interpreting

2.1. Pragmatic markers, political discourse and oral communications

Fraser (1996: 168) defined pragmatic markers (PMs) as ‘the linguistically encoded clues which signal the speaker’s potential communicative intentions’. He provided a four-level scheme to cover the types of PMs, including basic markers (structural, lexical and hybrid), commentary pragmatic markers, parallel markers and discourse markers (DMs). Despite its ground-breaking contribution, this definition of PMs has been regarded as ‘too inclusive’ (Schourup 1999: 239). Schourup (1999: 230), borrowing Fraser’s scheme, introduced the notion of DMs since it has ‘a narrower range of reference’ and may be extended to account for not just inter-utterance but also monologue coherence. Brinton (1996: 30), opting for the term PMs for it ‘better captures the range of functions’, provided a brief inventory of lexical items that could help define PMs in modern English. However, as stated by the author, the list, based on studies before the middle 1990s only, is by no means complete.

Taking into consideration the common ground between PMs and DMs, some researchers have developed operational definitions and schemes for the study of these non-propositional linguistic items. For example, Feng (2008: 1688), suggesting that PMs and DMs were ‘roughly the same class of expressions’, provided a narrower definition of PMs as ‘syntactically dispensable, truth-conditionally irrelevant expressions operating on the propositional content of the sentence to which they are attached’ (Feng 2008: 1687) and divided Chinese PMs into conceptual and non-conceptual ones. Kallen and Kirk (2012: 41-42), adopting a broad definition of DMs as ‘an element of discourse that marks the speaker’s orientation towards the illocutionary core of an utterance’, operationalised English DMs by dividing them into syntactic, lexical and phonological ones, and provided a list of lexical items under each category. The present study builds mainly on these two schemes but adheres to using the term PMs (see Brinton 1996).

With a wide range of pragmatic functions (Brinton 1996; Hansen and Rossari 2005), PMs have been closely examined in and contributed greatly to our understanding of different types of political discourse. Furkó and Abuczki (2014), for example, through a corpus of BBC and CNN interviews with political figures, examined the frequently used PMs and highlighted their roles in mediatised political discourse. Han (2011), adopting Fraser’s (1996) scheme, investigated the use of PMs in the underexplored area of monologues through a corpus of speeches delivered by famous public speakers and political figures. The study provided evidence that PMs, as the ‘linguistic and strategic choices made by the speaker’, contributed to ‘the success of communication between the speaker and the hearer in a public speech’ (2791).  

Recognised as a characteristic of oral discourse (Brinton 1996; Schourup 1999), the use of PMs has been proven as a useful indicator of oral proficiency in a second language. Many studies adopted a corpus-based method to compare second language use with native language use, which contributed greatly to the teaching of a second language (Huang 2011; Dalili and Dastjerdi 2013). For example, Dalili and Dastjerdi (2013: 61), through a corpus-based analysis of media discourse produced by native and non-native English speakers, concluded that DMs constituted ‘a major part of “discourse competence”’ and enabled ‘the speakers of a language to observe the rules governing the combination of sentences and attain sensitivity to communicative functions of these elements in organising discourse’. Huang (2011), through a corpus-based analysis of typical DMs in different types of English speeches produced by non-native and native speakers, studied the contextual factors that accounted for Chinese non-native speakers’ distinctive use of PMs in English. Wei (2011), in particular, identified that there were different patterns of the use of PMs by English learners of different proficiency levels in China.

2.2. Pragmatic markers in interpreting

There have been a few studies highlighting the importance of studying PMs in interpreting and addressing the rendition of particular PMs in certain types of interpreting. Zheng (2013: 73), for example, emphasised the functions of DMs in simultaneous interpreting:

Discourse markers help the interpreter grasp the speaker’s communicative intention, and interpreters in turn use such devices in the target language to render the original information without putting the audience to unnecessary effort.

She analysed the strategies applied in the renditions of DMs by four student interpreters working from B (English) to A (Chinese) and suggested that ‘focused training on discourse markers helps simultaneous interpreters enhance performance and reduce errors’, so that ‘they will be in a better position to choose the best interpreting strategies’ (Zheng 2013: 97).

Blakemore and Gallai (2014) examined perspective dependent PMs in interpreted dialogues to see how interpreters render the ‘attributed thoughts’ from the speakers while trying to remain ‘invisible’ in the communicative process. The study indicated that interpreters may add PMs to the interpreted dialogues. Magnifico and Defrancq (2014), using Brinton’s (1996) list, analysed the use of PMs in the source languages and simultaneous interpreting of three languages in the European Parliament Interpreting Corpus Ghent corpus, and identified an increased use of PMs in interpreted speeches as compared to the source languages, in particular by female interpreters. However, factors related to the directionality of interpreting were not discussed.

Despite the aforementioned piloting research efforts, the strategies of how PMs were interpreted into a B language remain largely underexplored. According to Östman (1982: 169, as in Brinton 1996: 33), PMs appear as ‘a result of the informality of oral discourse and the grammatical ‘fragmentation’ caused by the lack of planning time’, which may lead to their use as an ‘expedient strategy’ in the highly stressful situation of political interpreting (cf. Schäffner and Bassnett 2010). However, when interpreting into a B language, interpreters may encounter difficulties in PM use due to possible insufficient command of ‘discourse competence’ (cf. Dalili and Dastjerdi 2013) as compared to native speakers. It is therefore worthwhile to look into the complicated interplay between the B language factor and PM use in interpreting, in particular in political interpreting.

Since interpreting corpora compilation has been greatly hindered by the constraints of time and lack of data accessibility, corpus-based interpreting research is still in its infancy and has hardly benefited from or contributed to the automatic analysis approaches developed in corpus or computational linguistics (see Shlesinger 2009; Setton 2011). With great potentials to contribute to the knowledge of the particular features of interpreted language, or ‘interpretese’ (Shlesinger 2009), corpus-based interpreting studies have mostly been concerned with the rendition of propositional rather than non-propositional meaning. From a few small-scale studies related to PMs (Shlesinger 2009) to more recent large-scale, corpus-based studies of PM rendition in interpreting (Magnifico and Defrancq 2014), much still remains unsettled as far as the analysis scheme goes. In this regard, many existing native and non-native spoken corpora provided some adaptable schemes (Brinton 1996; Kallen and Kirk 2012) for the analysis of PMs and allowed the comparison of large-scale bilingual data.

To sum up, previous research on PMs suggests that they play important roles in political discourses and act as significant indicators of the proficiency in a non-native spoken language. Methodologically speaking, there has been an increased application of corpus-based analysis of large-scale data, which has generated findings regarding the contextual use of PMs across genres and language modes. However, there seems to be a lack of systematic analysis of the use of PMs in interpreting into B, a source-language-proposition-dependent non-native spoken language in which the rendition of non-propositional meaning may play a decisive role.

3. The study

Despite the importance of pragmatic competence in political retour interpreting, little empirical evidence has been provided as to its ‘what’ and ‘how’ in training. Exploratory research is therefore the most suitable approach for the study, which ‘typically occurs when a researcher examines a new interest or when the subject of study itself is relatively new’ (Babbie 2015: 90).

This study, being part of a large project and exploratory in nature, aims to investigate the use of PMs, a parameter revealing the quality of political interpreting at the pragmatic level and reflecting the pragmatic competence of interpreters, in interpreted political speeches from Chinese to English (interpreted English), as compared to that in native English speeches delivered in similar settings (native English).

3.1. PMs in the study

A set of PMs were chosen for analyses in the study, including syntactic markers, lexical markers, contrastive makers, and elaborative markers (Table 1). They were selected by comparing the existing analytical schemes of PMs (Fraser 1996; Kallen and Kirk 2012) and their frequency of occurrence in a pilot study (Pan and Wong 2015a, 2015b).

Category

Selected PMs

Syntactic markers

I know

 

I think

 

I suppose

Lexical markers

actually

 

kind of

 

sort of

 

then

Contrastive markers

but

 

instead of

 

however

Elaborative markers

above all

 

what is more

 

in other words

Table 1. Pragmatic markers selected for the study

Syntactic markers refer to ‘the subjects I or you plus verbs of perception, speech or knowledge’ (Kallen and Kirk 2012: 48; cf. PMs signalling the ‘force’ of ‘sentence mood’ in Fraser 1996: 168), whilst lexical markers ‘operate more simply’ and ‘often combine with elements that also stand as discourse markers in their own right’ (Kallen and Kirk 2012: 50; cf. PMs signalling the ‘force’ of ‘lexical expressions’ in Fraser 1996: 168). Both syntactic and lexical markers ‘express the speaker’s attitude’ towards the ‘core illocution within the context of emerging discourse’ (Kallen and Kirk 2012: 47; cf. Commentary PMs in Fraser 1996). In addition, contrastive markers signal that ‘the utterance following is either a denial or a contrast of some proposition associated with the preceding discourse’ (Fraser 1996: 187), whereas elaborative markers signal that ‘the utterance following constitutes a refinement of some sort on the preceding discourse’ (Fraser 1996: 187). Instead of signalling the ‘attitude’ of the speaker, contrastive and elaborative markers both belong to what is termed as ‘discourse marker’ in Fraser (1996: 186), that is, ‘an expression which signals the relationship of the basic message to the foregoing discourse’.

3.2. The corpora

The use of the above PMs were compared in two corpora: (1) The Corpus of Interpreted Political Speeches from Chinese to English (CIPSCE): a corpus of English interpretation of Chinese speeches delivered by high-profile politicians in Beijing and Hong Kong (interpreted English), and (2) The Corpus of English Political Speeches (CEPS): a reference corpus of English speeches delivered by high profile politicians in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) (native English). The corpora covered the types of speeches that are common in political interpreting, mostly of government work and policy reports (also refer to the sample data for the year 2015 in Appendix 1). In addition, the speeches were delivered by politicians of similar or same ranks so that the data were comparable between the two corpora. Specifically, the sources of CIPSCE include:

  1. The interpreted Policy Addresses delivered by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political; interpreting mode – simultaneous) and the interpreted press conferences of such speeches (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political; interpreting mode – simultaneous);
  2. The interpreted Budget Speeches delivered by the Financial Secretary of Hong Kong SAR on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – financial; interpreting mode – simultaneous) and the interpreted press conferences of such speeches (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – financial; interpreting mode – simultaneous);
  3. The interpreted Report on the Work of the Government delivered by the Premier of PRC on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political and financial; interpreting mode – consecutive) and the interpreted press conferences of such speeches (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political and financial; interpreting mode – consecutive); and
  4. The interpreted speeches delivered at state visits and bilateral meetings between PRC Presidents and top political figures and their counterparts in UK and US (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – diplomatic; interpreting mode – consecutive)[1].

For these interpreted speeches, the assignment of interpreters usually followed standard interpreting practice, that is, one for consecutive interpreting (two, each working for one side, in scenario 4) and two for simultaneous interpreting.

Correspondingly, the sources of CEPS include:

  1. The State of the Union Addresses delivered by the US Presidents on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political) and their press conferences (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political);
  2. The Budget Speeches delivered by the US Presidents on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – financial) and their press conferences (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – financial);
  3. The State Opening of Parliament speeches delivered by the Queen of UK on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political) and their parliamentary debates (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political);
  4. The Budget Statements delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of UK on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – financial) and their parliamentary debates (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – financial); and
  5. Speeches delivered at state visits and bilateral meetings between Presidents and top political figures in UK and US and their counterparts in other countries (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – diplomatic).

Exploratory in nature, the study analysed data during 2011–15 to prepare for large scale data analysis.

Speeches delivered by state leaders and top-level politicians and their interpretations were collected online from official government websites and TV programme archives, which usually provide videos of the speeches and their transcripts (see Appendix 1 for a list of such data sources). When there was no transcript provided along with the speech, transcription was performed manually.

The PMs in the two corpora were analysed with the aid of the software tool AntConc (Anthony 2015). Instances of each of the selected PMs in Table 1 were searched and located using the tool. Manual checking was performed to verify that each instance functions as the PM in question. Then the frequencies of the PMs were counted and the log-likelihood (LL) score was calculated using Rayson’s UCREL log-likelihood wizard (McEnery and Hardie 2012) to check if there are significant differences between the two corpora. The context of PMs was also examined in detail through concordancing.

4. Findings

4.1. Basic statistics

Table 2 presents the overall statistics of the two corpora. The CIPSCE (interpreted English) and CEPS (native English) have a total of about 140,000 tokens and 72,000 tokens, respectively. Because of their divergence in corpus size, the standardised TTR (per 1,000 words) were calculated for comparison (Scott 2016). The results indicate that both corpora have a similar standardised type-token ratio (STTR) — 40.54 per cent for CIPSCE and 39.72 per cent for CEPS — which means that the lexical variety of the two corpora is at a similar level in general.

 

Token

Type

TTR

STTR (per 1,000 words)

CIPSCE (Interpreted English)

139,796

7,420

5.31%

40.54%

CEPS (Native English)

71,967

5,690

7.91%

39.72%

Table 2. Basic statistics of the two corpora

4.2. PMs in interpreted vs. native English: Frequency comparison

Table 3 shows the frequency of the PMs in the corpora, including the total occurrence frequency, the average frequency per 10,000 (10K) words, observed frequencies in a normalised (percentage) form, and results of the log-likelihood test. The selected PMs in both categories of syntactic markers and lexical markers had the same use pattern in CIPSCE and CEPS: ‘I think’ was used more frequently than ‘I know’ and ‘I suppose’ within the category of syntactic markers, whereas ‘then’ was the most frequently used syntactic marker, followed by ‘actually’, ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’.

The selected PMs in both categories of syntactic markers and lexical markers tend to be used much more frequently in CEPS than in CIPSCE (their LL scores were all significant, except for ‘I suppose’). Comparing the average frequencies, the syntactic marker ‘I think’ was used 7.6 times more in CEPS (13.063) than in CIPSCE (1.717); and the lexical marker ‘then’ was used 3.1 times more in CEPS (9.171) than in CIPSCE. The average frequency of the other selected PMs in these two categories also reveal the same pattern, that the markers are more frequently used in native English speeches, except for ‘I suppose’, which has a slightly higher frequency in CIPSCE than in CEPS (0.143 vs. 0.139) but an insignificant LL score (0.00), indicating that the difference may be by chance. As compared to ‘I think’ (perception) or ‘I know’ (knowledge), ‘I suppose’ (perception) expresses a lower degree of reliability (cf. Aijmer 1997). The slightly higher frequency of its use, despite the insignificant LL score, may be contributable to the Chinese source language influence or interpreters’ uncertainty of the message (‘proposition’ in Fraser 1996 and ‘illocution’ in Kallen and Kirk 2012) itself.

Category

Selected PMs

CIPSCE

(Interpreted English)

CEPS

(Native English)

LL

   

Total freq.

Avg. freq. (per 10K)1

Observed freq. in percentage
(%)2

Total freq.

 

Avg. freq. (per 10K)1

 

Observed freq. in percentage (%)2

 

Syntactic markers

I know

6

0.429

0.00

35

 

4.863

 

0.05 -

46.39*

I think

24

1.717

0.02

94

 

13.062

 

0.13 -

103.64*

I suppose

2

0.143

0.00

1

 

0.139

 

0.00 +

0.00

Lexical markers

actually

20

1.431

0.01

28

 

3.891

 

0.04 -

11.85*

kind of

10

0.715

0.01

13

 

1.806

 

0.02 -

4.87*

sort of

1

0.072

0.00

6

 

0.834

 

0.01 -

8.04*

then

41

2.933

0.03

66

 

9.171

 

0.09 -

34.08*

Contrastive markers

but

172

12.304

0.12

316

 

43.909

 

0.44 -

191.57*

instead of

8

0.572

0.01

11

 

1.528

 

0.02 -

4.52*

however

34

2.432

0.02

6

 

0.834

 

0.01 +

7.37*

Elaborative markers

above all

0

0.000

0.00

3

 

0.417

 

0.00 -

6.48*

what is more

1

0.072

0.00

0

 

0.000

 

0.00 +

0.83

in other words

1

0.072

0.00

2

 

0.278

 

0.00 -

1.33

*: significant at p<0.05 (LL>3.84)

Table 3. A comparison of the PM frequencies in the two corpora

Notes:

1. For each category of PMs, the highest average frequency in each corpus is emphasised in bold.

2. The observed (absolute) frequencies in a normalised (percentage) forms are reported for the log-likelihood test (McEnery and Hardie 2012). If the number of the second corpus (CEPS) is followed by ‘-’, it means that the PM is more frequent (on average) in CEPS than in CIPSCE (ibid.). If the number is followed by ‘+’, it means that the PM is more frequent (on average) in CIPSCE instead.

The situation for contrastive markers is more complicated. There seems to be no shared use pattern of the selected PMs in these two categories of markers in CIPSCE and CEPS, except for that ‘but’ has an apparently higher frequency than the other two contrastive markers.

When interpreted and native English are compared, the differences in the frequencies of contrastive markers between the two corpora are all significant. The markers ‘but’ and ‘instead of’ were more frequently used in CEPS than CIPSCE — with the average frequency of 43.909 and 12.304 for ‘but’, and 1.528 and 0.572 for ‘instead of’, in CEPS and CIPSCE, respectively — the same pattern as that of syntactic markers and lexical markers. Another contrastive marker ‘however’ shows an opposite pattern, that it was used significantly more frequently in interpreted speeches (CIPSCE). The results suggest that there may be different preferences of native and non-native English speakers for the use of different contrastive markers.

For elaborative markers, the frequency of use in the two corpora is very low. The most frequent marker, ‘above all’, is used only 0.417 time on average in CEPS and even not used in CIPSCE. Although there is a significant difference in terms of the LL score, the small frequency data does not allow a meaningful or in-depth comparison between the two corpora.

4.3. PMs in interpreted vs. native English: In-depth analyses of representative PMs

The representative PMs in each of the three categories, syntactic, lexical and contrastive markers, were further looked into in the context using AntConc. Elaborative markers were not included due to their small frequencies. The representative PMs were chosen based on their frequencies as compared to that of other PMs in the same category.

4.3.1. Syntactic marker: ‘I think’

The syntactic marker ‘I think’ had the highest frequency in both CIPSCE and CEPS. Aijmer (1997) divides the function of ‘I think’ into a tentative and a deliberative one. The former ‘expresses uncertainty (epistemic modality) or softens an assertion which may be too blunt (interactive meaning)’ (21) while the latter ‘adds weight to the assertion or expresses reassurance’ (22).

Figure 1 shows the examples of how ‘I think’ was used in CIPSCE. According to the examples, ‘I think’ was used at both the front (for example, line 5) and middle (for example, line 1) of an utterance. Both the tentative function (for example, line 1) and deliberative function (for example, line 2) were seen, and the latter looks more prevalent.

Figure 1. Examples of the concordance of ‘I think’ in CIPSCE

Figure 2 shows the examples of ‘I think’ in CEPS. Likewise, ‘I think’ was used at both the front (for example, line 2) and middle (for example, line 1) of an utterance. Both the tentative function (for example, line 1) and deliberative function (for example, line 2) were seen, and again, both functions look commonplace. What is worth noting is that the structure ‘NP + that + I think + VP’ (generally indicating the tentative function; for example, line 5) is missing in CIPSCE, indicating the possibility of a greater variety of the use of ‘I think’, and in particular, its use in more complicated sentence structures in the native speeches.

Figure 2. Examples of the concordance of ‘I think’ in CEPS

Table 4 further compares the distribution of all cases of ‘I think’ in different utterance positions in CIPSCE and CEPS. The distribution ratio looks similar in both corpora, and the syntactic marker has a slightly higher percentage of front position in CEPS than in CIPSCE. 

 

CIPSCE (Interpreted English)

CEPS (Native English)

Position

Frequency

%

Frequency

%

Front

6

25

26

27.66

Middle

18

75

68

72.34

End

0

0

0

0

Total

24

100

94

100

Table 4. Distribution of ‘I think’ in different utterance positions in CIPSCE and CEPS

4.3.2. Lexical marker: ‘Then’

Likewise, the high frequency lexical marker ‘then’ was further studied in its context in the two corpora. The function of ‘then’, according to Kallen and Kirk (2012: 47), can roughly be divided into ‘temporal reference’ (usually the main function) and other functions (often indicating conclusion).

Figure 3 shows the examples of the concordance of ‘then’ in the interpreted speeches. As shown in the figure, ‘then’ was used at the beginning (for example, line 2), middle (for example, line 3) and end (for example, line 1) of an utterance, in particular in the structure ‘and + then + NP + VP’ (often functioning as temporal reference, for example, line 7) and ‘but + then + NP + VP’ (usually with other functions, for example, line 4). In both structures, ‘then’ functions supplementary to either ‘and’ (parallel marker) or ‘but’ (contrastive marker). In addition, both temporal function and other functions were seen in the use of ‘then’, with no clear preference in the examples shown.

Figure 3. Examples of the concordance of ‘then’ in CIPSCE

The context of how ‘then’ was used in CEPS is shown in Figure 4. The lexical marker ‘then’ was often used in the middle position of an utterance. It was also used at the beginning but never at the end of an utterance. Both temporal function (for example, line 1) and other functions (for example, line 2, meaning ‘in this case’) were identified. The structure ‘but + then + NP + VP’, frequently used in CIPSCE, was not seen in CEPS.

Figure 4. Examples of the concordance of ‘then’ in CEPS

Table 5 provides the details of positions of all cases of ‘then’ in CIPSCE and CEPS. Likewise, the distribution ratio looks similar in both corpora, except for that ‘but’ was used once as sentence end in CIPSCE but never in CEPS, indicating a possible inappropriate use in this utterance position in the interpreted speeches.

 

CIPSCE (Interpreted English)

CEPS (Native English)

Position

Frequency

%

Frequency

%

Front

2

4.88

3

4.55

Middle

38

92.68

63

95.45

End

1

2.44

0

0

Total

41

100

66

100

Table 5. Distribution of ‘then’ in different utterance positions in CIPSCE and CEPS

4.3.3. Contrastive marker: ‘But’

The contrastive marker ‘but’, a PM signaling ‘denial of expectation’ and ‘contrast’ (Blakemore 1989: 25, 28),was most frequently used among all selected PMs in both CIPSCE and CEPS.

Figure 5 shows the examples of ‘but’ in CIPSCE. The contrastive marker was used both as sentence initial (for example, line 4) and in the middle of an utterance (for example, line 1). It was also used both to indicate denial of expectation (for example, line 2) and contrast (for example, line 5). Moreover, it was used in the structure ‘not only … but also’ (denial of expectation) 35 times (over 20 per cent of the 172 cases).

Figure 5. Examples of the concordance of ‘but’ in CIPSCE

The examples of ‘but’ in CEPS can be seen in Figure 6. ‘But’ was used both as sentence initial (for example, line 2) and in the middle (for example, line 1). It served as denial of expectation (for example, line 1) and contrast (for example, line 3). Its use in the structure ‘not only … but also’ (denial of expectation) was far less frequent than in interpreted speeches: only 16 such cases were found, about 5 per cent of the total 316 cases in CEPS.

Figure 6. Examples of the concordance of ‘but’ in CEPS

Table 6 provides the details of sentence positions of all cases of ‘but’ in CIPSCE and CEPS. Whilst being used most often in the middle of an utterance in interpreted speeches, ‘but’ was preferred in the front position of an utterance in native English speeches. It did not appear at the end of an utterance in either CIPSCE or CEPS.

 

CIPSCE (Interpreted English)

CEPS (Native English)

Position

Frequency

%

Frequency

%

Front

61

35.47

165

52.22

Middle

111

64.53

151

47.78

End

0

0

0

0

Total

172

100

316

100

Table 6. Distribution of ‘but’ in different utterance positions in CIPSCE and CEPS

5. Discussion and conclusions

The study set out to explore the difference in use of PMs in interpreted and native English speeches delivered in political and diplomatic settings so as to provide insights to the development of pragmatic competence in Chinese–English retour political interpreting. Two corpora, CIPSCE and CEPS, were constructed for the purpose of the study. Four categories of PMs were selected for analyses for their representativeness in the corpora data. The frequencies of the PMs were compared between the two corpora. The use of high frequency PMs in each category was further explored and compared in aspects of their positions in an utterance and their pragmatic functions.

5.1. Developing pragmatic competence in Chinese–English political retour interpreting: Preliminary insights into the ‘what’

Findings of the study suggest a general underuse of most of the PMs, in particular syntactic markers and lexical markers, in the CIPSCE than in the CEPS, whereas the patterns of contrastive markers and elaborative markers seem to be more complicated. Whilst syntactic and lexical markers both signal the ‘attitudes’ of a speaker (Kallen and Kirk 2012), contrastive and elaborative markers relate more to the textual relationship between the previous and forgoing discourse (Fraser 1996). The general underuse of syntactic and lexical markers indicate the under-representativeness of a speaker’s ‘attitudes’ in interpreted political speeches, which may be contributed by the lack of such expressions in the source texts, or interpreters’ uncertainty in using such markers in the sensitive setting of political and diplomatic communications (Pan 2005, 2007; Pan and Wang 2008; Buri 2015).

The general underuse of PMs found in the study seems to go against the findings in Blakemore and Gallai (2014) and Magnifico and Defrancq (2014), both suggesting that the interpreted language tends to have increased use of PMs as compared to the source language. It is therefore necessary to compare the uses of PMs between the source language and the interpreted language, which will be a legitimate step to take in a larger project. So far, some preliminary analyses have indicated that there is a decreased use of the contrastive marker ‘but’ in interpreted English as compared to its source language of policy speeches (Pan and Wong 2018). Therefore, it seems that the interpreters reduced the use of this contrastive marker in Chinese–English retour political interpreting, even though the source language and the native English speeches in similar settings had a higher frequency of its use.

For the contrastive marker ‘however’, its overuse in interpreted speeches is in contrast to the findings of Granger and Tyson (1996), that this marker was less frequently used by non-native speakers than native ones. When compared to the source language, ‘however’ was also overused in the interpreted English as compared to its source language of policy speeches (Pan and Wong 2018). It seems that in Chinese–English retour political interpreting, interpreters tend to overuse a contrastive marker that is weaker in contrastiveness to tune down the force of a message, again, perhaps due to the sensitiveness in political interpreting (Pan 2005; 2007; Pan and Wang 2008; Buri 2015).

Since interpreters are supposed to render the implied meaning, including attitudes, of the speakers in political and diplomatic settings (Xu 2000; Yang 2012; Zheng 2013), when training interpreters for Chinese–English retour political interpreting, it may be necessary to provide more training to (student) interpreters in this aspect. For instance, (student) interpreters can be given more training on how to grasp the perception (‘I think’) and knowledge (‘I know’) of the speakers and express them clearly by using the two syntactic markers ‘I think’ and ‘I know’ respectively. A reference corpus such as CEPS in the present study can provide valuable pedagogical resources for awareness raising: by simply searching the syntactic marker ‘I think’, students can realise how often it is used in native English speeches delivered in political and diplomatic settings.

In addition, (student) interpreters should be trained on the appropriate understanding and even anticipation of the textual relationship between the previous and forgoing discourse (cf. X. Wang 2008) so as to use contrastive and elaborative markers in a more systematic way as the native English speakers. Listening drills and blank filling exercises developed based on a corpus such as CEPS will be of great help.

It should be noted that within each category of PMs, the high frequency PMs were the same in both CIPSCE and CEPS, indicating that political interpreters, professional government employees who passed rigorous tests (cf. FMPRC 2013; US State Department n.d.), have a generally accurate understanding of the PM use. This may also be contributed by the fact that most of the interpreted speeches were prepared or semi-prepared.

5.2. Developing pragmatic competence in Chinese–English political retour interpreting: Preliminary insights into the ‘how’

Findings of the study also provide insights into ‘how’ to train (student) interpreters in terms of PM use in Chinese–English political interpreting. For instance, the findings of the performance of the syntactic marker ‘I think’ suggest that its position as utterance initial can be highlighted in training Chinese interpreters. In addition, its use in the sentence structure ‘NP + that + I think + VP’ (generally indicating the tentative function) can be added in a text book for Chinese–English political interpreting.

Likewise, findings of the lexical marker ‘then’ suggest that its position in the middle of an utterance should be stressed. Interpreters should try to avoid its use at the end of an utterance, or in the structure ‘but + then + NP + VP’.

The use of the contrastive marker ‘but’ seems to be the most problematic, with an apparent underuse of it as utterance initial. In addition to realising its commonplace at the beginning of an utterance in political speeches, (student) interpreters should try to reduce the use of ‘but’ in the structure ‘not only … but also’ (denial of expectation).

Despite the rich findings, it should be noted that the study is exploratory in nature. The corpus size is limited and the language combination only covers Chinese-to-English, meaning that the findings are still hypothetical, which need to be further tested with the use of corpora of a larger size or continuous development of the research design. Also, the findings at this stage cannot be generalised to political interpreting at large or of other language combinations.

The benefits of exploratory research often lie in its insights into future research directions (Babbie 2015). In this case, the study will lead to the development of the annotation scheme for a large-scale corpus-based study of PMs in interpreted political/diplomatic speeches and the detailed analysis of individual PM use in context. Both CIPSCE and CEPS will be expanded to cover a longer span of time so that the findings in the present study can be consolidated. It will be possible to include the annotation of different PM functions for quantitative comparison between the two corpora. With large size corpora, it will be interesting to look into PM use across different settings and modes of interpreting. Moreover, it may be worthwhile to incorporate comparisons with the source language of the interpreted speeches (Pan and Wong 2018) and with findings of other language combinations to consolidate if the different PM use patterns identified between interpreted and native speeches are due to insufficient pragmatic competence of a B language, or rather, the influence of the source language (and culture) or even a feature of ‘interpretese’ (Shlesinger 2009).

Given what has been said, the present study helps to highlight the areas of improvement in Chinese–English political retour interpreting. It serves at least an important primary attempt to show the significance and advance the development of pragmatic competence in political interpreter training.

Appendix 1. A list of the corpora data resources (2015)

Notes:

Set 1: Speeches delivered by state leaders and key political figures from the United States and the United Kingdom (Native English) – CEPS

Set 2: Interpreted speeches from those delivered by state leaders and key political figures from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong (Interpreted English) – CIPSCE

Acknowledgements

This study is sponsored by HKSAR’s Research Grants Council under its Early Career Scheme (Project Number: 22608716).

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Notes

[1] This part is not shown in Appendix 1 as there was no such visit in the year.

About the author(s)

Jun PAN is Associate Professor in the Translation Programme and Director of the M.A. Programme in Translation and Bilingual Communication at Hong Kong Baptist University. She is an experienced conference interpreter and interpreter trainer and has been researching in interpreting and translation for many years. Her research interests include corpus-based interpreting studies, learner factors in interpreter training, and professionalism in interpreting.

Billy Tak Ming WONG is Research Fellow of the Open University of Hong Kong. He has been teaching and conducting research on computational linguistics, computer-aided translation and educational technology for years. He has widely published on evaluation of machine translation quality and the impacts of technology on education.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Jun Pan (Hong Kong Baptist University, PRC) and Billy T. M. Wong (The Open University of Hong Kong, PRC) (2019).
"Pragmatic Competence in Chinese-English Retour Interpreting of Political Speeches A Corpus-Driven Exploratory Study of Pragmatic Markers"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
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