petek, 15. maj 2015

Corpus Interpreting Studies (CIS): State of the art

Last week, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to attend the first international workshop on CIS in Forli, Italy. Not only I got to spend some time on trains, my favourite means for long distance travel, but I also met some amazing people and heard them share ideas and findings from their interpreting related corpus studies. Being in the last stage of PhD on this topic, you can imagine my excitement!

The University of Forli did not host this event by chance, as it is regarded as the birthplace of the epic EPIC, European Parliament Interpreting Corpus, one of the first large scale corpus of interpretations which was an inspiration and model for many following studies. New linguistic combinations were added to the model, including languages such as Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, and even Slovenian (no papers were presented, but there several studies using EP material were conducted also at the University of Ljubljana).

Opening address of the Director of the Dept. - in Italian with interpretation into English, of course! :)

By its definition, a corpus is a large collection of authentic texts which enables specific computer driven searches. But despite this accentuated quantitative aspect, the main focus of these studies is still qualitative observation of the quantitatively relevant phenomena. However, unlike in the past, when such analyses were conducted on the basis of personal observation or anecdotes, the corpus analyses are grounded in authentic interpreting material. The phenomena observed are as varied as is the group of researchers involved in the field: ranging from purely linguistic aspects, such as the use of anaphoric means or discourse markers, to more communicative - the influence of source speech rate on the interpreted speech and its length, or even social - does gender affect interpreting performance or what are the implications of telephone interpreting in community settings (healthcare, for example).

Indeed, corpus interpreting studies offer a wide range of possible explorations, both in conference and community interpreting, but of course they also present certain limitations. Firstly, the compilation of such a corpus is still a painstakingly slow endeavour, especially the transcription process, involving human element, even though more and more technology can be used also in this area, ie. speech recognition software, transcription apps etc. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, corpus studies are usually limited in scope, despite being quantitatively oriented. Normally, they focus on a specific context, EPIC for instance focused on interpreting in the EP, namely on plenary meetings, yet we know that plenary meetings are a special kind of communicative situation, with short MEP interventions read out at breakneck speed, and moreover present a political type of discourse, so completely different from what you could get by observing scientific conferences on the private market. This means that is is impossible to draw meaningful generalizations outside the limited scope of the research. Or, that even larger and more balanced corpora, including different types of conference settings, not only political and institution-based, are needed to do so.

Castle of Bertinoro, where we enjoyed dinner in an amazing setting

Hopefully, such common projects, involving different researchers dealing with various linguistic combinations or search problems, will emerge in the near future, also through initiatives and ideas given and debated at the First International Workshop in CIS held at Forli. Besides being very well organised, the event offered us an invaluable opportunity to exchange views, get new insights into what is being done in the field, and most importantly, come together and think of possible new ways of exploring the corpus studies to the benefit not only of the (publication driven) research community, but also of the larger disciplines of translation studies and linguistics, as well as the professional community of interpreters and public in general.