Perceptual foreign accent and its relevance for simultaneous interpreting  

Robert McAllister

In Languang Processing and Simultaneous Interpreting (Hyltenstam, K & Englund-Dimitrova, B., eds.). Amsterdam: John Benjamin, 2000: 45-63.


The study of simultaneous interpreting presents a formidable challenge to the linguist and psychologist alike. Psycholinguistic models meant to shed light on the complexity of the process in question have been developed and refined by several scholars (Gerver, 1976, Moser, 1978, Levelt, 1989, de Boot, 1995). This paper is a discussion of one of the processes included in these current views of simultaneous interpretation, namely the decoding process usually referred to as "speech perception". This process involves the reception of speech sounds and their decoding into linguistic units. The discussion here is based on experimental research concerned with the perceptual performance of second language (L2) users during the perception of L2 speech.

The question immediately arises as to what extent simultaneous interpreters are similar to second language users with respect to speech perception and, consequently, whether or not evidence from the L2 users in the study presented here is of interest in the context of simultaneous interpretation. This question ultimately revolves around the issue of the definitions of "second language", "bilingualism" and how degree of mastery of a language can be assessed. The discussion of these admittedly important issues is, however, beyond the pale of this paper. We will assume that there are professionals in the field of simultaneous interpreting whose mastery of a language is similar enough to that of second language users to make this discussion relevant to the theme of this symposium.

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