Reformulation tactics

This extract is taken from pages 197-199 of Daniel Gile‘s excellent “Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training”, 1995, and is reproduced here without the kind permission of Benjamins of Amsterdam.

Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator training

2.3 Reformulation tactics

The following are tactics used in reformulation in order to eliminate the potential consequences of production problems or short-term memory problems. The first three are the same as presented in section 2.1 on comprehension tactics. 

a. Delaying the response

This is the same tactic as used in comprehension, the idea being that the waiting period is used for a subconscious (or conscious) search for the missing term or sentence structure. As with the case of comprehension, the waiting entails a risk of short-term memory overload, as well as a possible increase in processing capacity requirements in the Production Effort when the informa­tion is eventually reformulated-because of the backlog that has accumulated in the meantime. 

b. Using the boothmate’s help 

As can be inferred from the descriptions in section 2.1, the boothmate’s help is more often given in the form of indications for reformulation than as explana­tions of what was said, which is reasonable in view of the strict time constraints involved. 

c. Consulting documents in the booth

Whenever possible, documents are used in the booth for reformulation, in particular where glossaries and dictionaries are concerned. 

d. Replacing a segment with a superordinate term or a more general speech segment 

When interpreters find themselves incapable of understanding a speech seg­ment or reformulating it in the target language, one possible solution is to reformulate the message in a less accurate manner by using a superordinate in the case of a single word, or by constructing a more general segment in the case of a whole clause or sentence: “la streptokinase” may be reformulated as “the enzyme,” “Monsieur Stephen Wedgeworth” as “the speaker,” “deux cent trente trois millions” as “about two hundred and thirty million,” “DEC, IBM, Hewlett Packard et Texas Instruments” as “a number of computer vendors,” etc. 

This tactic, which requires little time, implies loss of information in the target-language speech. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the information is lost for the delegates; it may be repeated in another sentence in the speech, or be already known to the delegates. 

e. Explaining or paraphrasing

Interpreters may understand a term but not know the appropriate equivalent in the target language, in which case they can explain it. For instance, in one conference, the data processing term “tableur” (spreadsheet) was interpreted as “the program which defines rows and columns and allows calculations to be made.” 

This tactic can be efficient informationally but has two drawbacks: one is the large amount of time and processing capacity it requires, and the other is the fact that it may draw the delegates’ attention to the fact that the interpreter does not know the proper term in the target language, possibly lowering his or her credibility and reducing the impact of the speech accordingly. 

f. Reproducing the sound heard in the source-language speech 

When encountering a name or technical term which is not known or recog­nized, the interpreter may try to reproduce the sound as heard. This is not an “intelligent” tactic insofar as it does not call for complex cognitive operations, but it can be efficient: if they know the name or term, delegates may hear it as it should have been pronounced, without even noticing that the interpreter has a problem. On the other hand, the approximation may also be heard and perceived as a distortion of the information, which may not only generate loss of information, but also discredit the interpreter. 

g. Instant naturalization 

When interpreters do not know the appropriate term in the target language, they may naturalize the source-language term, adapting it to the morphologi­cal or phonological rules of the target language. For instance, in a conference, the term “télédétection” (remote sensing) was rendered in English as “telede­tection.” Similarly, the English computer term “driver,” as applied to a soft­ware program that helps operate a device such as a printer from a computer, or as applied to the physical unit that runs floppy diskettes, was translated into French as “driver” (pronounced “dreevair”), and into Japanese as “doraibâ.”

This tactic may prove very effective in three cases: 

1. When the source-language and target-language lexicons are mor­phologically similar, as for example is the case in English and French medical terminology.2. When there is much borrowing of terms in the particular field from the source language to the target language. This is the case in particular of data processing, where English is a loan language for most other languages. In these first two cases, the tactic often results in terms that actually exist in the target language, as such naturalization may have been conducted previously by experts who needed the terms for their daily activity (as in the case of the naturalized French version of “driver” cited above), and may have produced the same target-language creation. 3. When delegates read much material in the source language. In such a case, they often recognize the naturalized terms, which are likely to sound similar to the way they pronounce the words in the source language when reading. 

h. Transcoding

Transcoding consists of translating a source-language term or speech segment into the target language word for word. For example, in the field of accounting, the English term “maturity date,” the equivalent of which is “date d’échéance “, was interpreted as “date de maturité”. 

This tactic can be very efficient in the same cases as naturalization. Like naturalization, it can also lead to existing target-language terms; in various fields, many terms have been created by such transcoding by experts, just as many terms have been created by phonetic naturalization. Even when trans­coding does not lead to an existing target-language term, it may facilitate comprehension for the delegates because of the semantic indications the newly created term carries. For instance, in the field of dentistry, the English term “mandibular block” (a type of anesthesia) was interpreted as “bloc mandi­bulaire”, whereas the appropriate term was “tronculaire”. Delegates said afterward they had no trouble understanding “bloc mandibulaire”, even though it bore no similarity at all with the appropriate French term.