The secret behind simultaneous interpreting: segmentation of the source message

An optimal segmentation of the source message is by far a simultaneous interpreter’s most important resource to avert the risk of falling behind a fast speaker, of missing some important  information or overloading short term memory.

While this may not come as a novelty, few interpreters will be aware that they can learn to master this technique through an apparently unrelated discipline: subtitling.

Here is a brief excerpt from a very informative article that I recently came across in the Translation Journal.

“Segmentation at the highest nodes: Subtitled text should appear segmented at the highest syntactic nodes possible. This means that each subtitle flash should ideally contain one complete sentence. In cases where the sentence cannot fit in a single-line subtitle and has to continue over a second line or even over a new subtitle flash, the segmentation on each of the lines should be arranged to coincide with the highest syntactic node possible.

For example, before we segment the phrase:

  • “The destruction of the city was inevitable.” (44 characters),

we first have to think of its syntactic tree as follows:

A segmentation on the fifth node (N5) would create the two-line subtitle

  • “The destruction of the
  • city was inevitable.”

A segmentation on the second node (N2) would create the two-line subtitle

  • “The destruction of the city
  • was inevitable.”

Out of the two segmentations, it is the second that flows as more readable. This occurs because the higher the node, the greater the grouping of the semantic load and the more complete the piece of information presented to the brain. When we segment a sentence, we force the brain to pause its linguistic processing for a while, until the eyes trace the next piece of linguistic information. In cases where segmentation is inevitable, therefore, we should try to force this pause on the brain at a point where the semantic load has already managed to convey a satisfactorily complete piece of information.” (From A Proposed Set of Subtitling Standards in Europe, by Fotios Karamitroglou)

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The secret behind simultaneous interpreting: segmentation of the source message

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