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Elisabet Tiselius Department of Swedish Language and Multilingualism, Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden

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Birgitta Englund Dimitrova Department of Swedish Language and Multilingualism, Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden

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Abstract

Allocation and management of working memory resources are crucial for successful interpreting. A number of studies have found clear indications that simultaneous interpreters have larger working memory capacity, at least in some areas, than other bilinguals. To date, no studies have focused on the working memory of dialogue interpreters. The study reported in this paper investigated the main differences and similarities in working memory between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters when it comes to central executive functions. We also compared experienced dialogue interpreters to experienced simultaneous conference interpreters. Fifteen dialogue interpreters with two working languages, Swedish and either French, Polish or Spanish, participated in the following working memory tests: tests for updating (2-back), inhibition (arrow flanker), attention-sharing, storage and processing (Barrouillet, letter span, matrix span, operation span). We found no significant differences between the experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters, and there were significant differences between the experienced dialogue interpreters and a comparison group of experienced simultaneous conference interpreters (n = 28). Although the number of participants is small, the study may serve as a baseline for future work on the cognition of dialogue interpreting.

Abstract

Allocation and management of working memory resources are crucial for successful interpreting. A number of studies have found clear indications that simultaneous interpreters have larger working memory capacity, at least in some areas, than other bilinguals. To date, no studies have focused on the working memory of dialogue interpreters. The study reported in this paper investigated the main differences and similarities in working memory between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters when it comes to central executive functions. We also compared experienced dialogue interpreters to experienced simultaneous conference interpreters. Fifteen dialogue interpreters with two working languages, Swedish and either French, Polish or Spanish, participated in the following working memory tests: tests for updating (2-back), inhibition (arrow flanker), attention-sharing, storage and processing (Barrouillet, letter span, matrix span, operation span). We found no significant differences between the experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters, and there were significant differences between the experienced dialogue interpreters and a comparison group of experienced simultaneous conference interpreters (n = 28). Although the number of participants is small, the study may serve as a baseline for future work on the cognition of dialogue interpreting.

1 Introduction

Working memory capacity is a crucial component of the interpreting process and has been found to differ between interpreters and bilinguals. Recent research into working memory has used psychometric working memory tests focusing on general working memory, updating, verbal fluency and task switching in order to establish what characterizes the working memory of interpreters. It has also been established that interpreting experience has a positive effect on working memory. These results have been obtained in studies of the relationship between simultaneous interpreting and working memory capacity (Ghiselli, 2022; Mellinger & Hanson, 2019; Wen & Dong, 2019). However, with the exception of Dong, Liu, and Cai (2018), most of these studies have focused on simultaneous interpreters. We argue that working memory is also highly engaged in dialogue interpreting.

Dialogue interpreting differs in certain respects from simultaneous interpreting. It is usually performed as a short consecutive, one utterance at a time. The interpreting is delivered when the speaker pauses, yet, as the interpreted rendition has to be produced immediately, the transfer of the message and planning of the production mostly goes on concurrently with the speaker's utterance. Inasmuch as this draws on working memory, it can be assumed that experienced dialogue interpreters will have an advantage in working memory capacity in comparison to less experienced interpreters or bilingual individuals, just as has been demonstrated in simultaneous interpreters. Indeed, it could be assumed that the working memory capacity of dialogue interpreters is similar to that of simultaneous interpreters.

1.1 Aim

The aim of this study is to investigate the working memory capacity of dialogue interpreters. We start with the assumption that there may be a difference in certain central executive functions of the working memory, which can be traced to experience, as has been shown for simultaneous interpreting (see further below). We would also like to establish whether we can identify any differences in these central executive functions depending on the type of interpreter, dialogue interpreter vs. simultaneous conference interpreter. This leads to the following research questions:

  1. Is there a difference in central executive functions (more precisely, attention control, updating, planning and resistance to interference) between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters?

  2. Is there a difference in these functions between dialogue interpreters and other types of interpreters (based on published results in other studies)?

2 Background

In this section we provide an overview of research into working memory in interpreting, and also the specificities of dialogue interpreting in this context.

2.1 Working memory in interpreting

Working memory as described by Wilhelm, Hildebrandt, and Oberauer (2013, p. 1) is a construct describing a system which gives access to information needed for ongoing cognitive processes (in our case, interpreting). Various models have been developed to describe this system, of which perhaps the Baddeley and Hitch's (1974) is the most well-known. Working memory capacity reflects the idea that there are limitations on individuals' working memory. In Interpreting Studies, the function or capacity of the interpreter's working memory (henceforth WM) is a well-researched topic. This research has mainly focused on simultaneous conference interpreters, and has sometimes involved comparing interpreters with bilinguals who are not interpreters. We list here several examples of important working memory studies related to interpreting. Liu (2001) investigated listening span, finding no difference between experienced interpreters and students, although there were differences in their interpreting performance. Timarová (2012) concluded in her PhD dissertation that WM is not a single entity in SI (simultaneous interpreting), that different WM executive functions have positive correlation to different simultaneous interpreting tasks, and that WM is a capability rather than capacity. According to her study, there are two relationships between WM and SI: one related to experience, the other to innate ability. The functions of dual tasking and resistance to interference are related to experience, while attention shifting, verbal memory and updating seem to be innate. Babcock (2015) concluded that SI is a skill that builds upon bilingualism. Verbal intelligence and verbal fluency are important positive predictive factors (which she does not label innate, but identifies as acquired before interpreting training). She found that interpreter training had an impact on several functions: verbal and spatial short-term memory, verbal working memory. Finally, she concluded that interpreters exhibit a smaller switching cost (the cost to switch between different tasks) compared to multilinguals without interpreting experience.

Lately, three meta-analyses on WM in SI have been published: Mellinger and Hanson (2019), Wen and Dong (2019) and Ghiselli (2022). Table 1 gives an overview of the studies included in the data-sets of the three studies.1

The three meta-analyses are all done meticulously, overall following quite similar research procedures. The research questions posed differ to some extent, but are all concerned with interpreter advantage in WM, and the data analysed are from published empirical and/or experimental studies relevant to that question. It should be noted that, with the exception of Dong et al. (2018), all studies included in the data-sets of the three meta-analyses are on simultaneous interpreting.23 The empirical data for the meta-analyses differs slightly in number: Mellinger and Hanson (2019) based their study on 16 publications, Wen and Dong (2019) on 10, and Ghiselli (2022) on 14 publications. Together, they cover 22 studies, published between 1995 and 2018. In view of the research questions posed, the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analyses differed slightly, which is one explanation for the different number of publications in the respective data-set; also, given the long publication times in many journals, it is natural that publications from 2018 could only be included in Ghiselli (2022). Only 3 studies (Köpke & Nespoulous, 2006; Signorelli et al.,2012;4 and Stavrakaki et al., 2012) were included in all three meta-analyses. Nine studies were included in two meta-analyses, and the rest, 10 studies, were included in only one of the meta-analytical studies (see Table 1).

The conclusions of the meta-analyses all point in the direction of an interpreter advantage in WM capacity, as shown by the following quotes: “…sufficient evidence seems to exist to declare that professional interpreters exhibit larger working memory capacities than non-interpreters” (Mellinger & Hanson, 2019, pp. 181–182); “…for the issue of an interpreter advantage (comparing interpreters with general bilinguals), an interpreter advantage was present in both WM and STM [short term memory] spans” (Wen & Dong, 2019, p. 778). Ghiselli (2022) did not specifically test the issue of the interpreter advantage as such, but focused on the types of tasks and what results they yield. Ghiselli (2022, pp. 71–72) could partially confirm greater differences in verbal tasks between study and control groups, but could not confirm that expertise has an effect on foreign language tasks, nor that tasks based on auditory stimuli (i.e., potentially more similar to interpreting) yield greater differences between study and control groups. She also mentions the fact that small sample sizes make reaching firm conclusions more difficult.

Furthermore, the meta-analyses conclude that the strength of the interpreter advantage is moderated by the type of tasks included in tests of WM, with verbal memory tests expressing the advantage more strongly: “This study found that interpreters and interpreting students have a significant WM advantage of medium size over non-interpreters in tasks based on verbal stimuli, but not in tasks based on non-verbal stimuli” (Ghiselli, 2022, p. 24). This is also noted by Wen and Dong (2019, p. 778): “…this advantage was more expressed in verbal memory tasks than in nonverbal ones”. Mellinger and Hanson (2019, p. 170) considered two types of tests/tasks from a different angle: “(1) memory tests involving storage only (short-term memory) versus those requiring cognitive processing (working memory); (2) the difference between visual and auditory stimuli”, and concluded regarding the second type that “modality of presentation [i.e., visual or auditory] does not have a substantial effect on the results of tests of working memory capacity. Professional interpreters outperform comparison groups, regardless of modality” (p. 182). Ghiselli (2022, p. 3) set out to test this conclusion, hypothesizing that tasks based on auditory stimuli would detect more differences between interpreters and control groups, but this hypothesis was not confirmed (p. 23).

The interpreter advantage is seen when comparing interpreters with control groups of non-interpreters. Furthermore, the meta-analyses analysed the data-sets for possible effect of length of interpreting experience on the results. Different approaches were used to operationalize the construct of interpreting expertise: Mellinger and Hanson (2019) used performance quality in simultaneous interpreting, Wen and Dong (2019) and Ghiselli (2022) used length of interpreting experience. Mellinger and Hanson (2019, p. 184) concluded that “…there appears to be a relationship between working memory capacity and the quality of simultaneous interpreting.” In the same vein, Wen and Dong (2019, p. 778) concluded: “our meta-analysis found that the level of interpreter expertise significantly moderated the presence or magnitude of such an advantage.” Ghiselli (2002, p. 23) reported similar findings.

Interestingly, Wen and Dong (2019, p. 779) report a lack of significant difference in WM and STM span between intermediate and expert interpreters, which tallies with the findings of Tiselius (2013) with regard to performance quality. Tiselius investigated the quality of three simultaneous interpreters' performance over time by assessing their interpreting of the same speech on two different occasions. Their performance was assessed by independent raters on two scales, intelligibility and informativeness. The study could not establish significant differences in the quality of their interpreting product recorded just before graduation and the one recorded after 15 years of experience. Although Tiselius' study was not directly related to WM, and of course needs to be replicated, it may indicate the presence of a threshold in development at the intermediate stage.

All three meta-analyses also consider the so-called publication bias, i.e., the fact that scientific journals prefer to publish studies that show statistically significant results, and that authors therefore may tend to refrain from submitting non-significant results for publication (see Rosenthal, 1979; Rothstein, Sutton, & Borenstein, 2005). This of course makes these results unavailable for meta-analysis, and may lead to a skewed analysis. The three studies took steps to analyse and report any publication bias; their findings indicate that publication bias is only a minor problem in studies on WM in interpreting.

This overview has shown that the WM capacity of simultaneous interpreters has been the subject of a number of experimental studies and three thorough meta-analytical publications with partly differing perspectives but very similar conclusions, regarding

  1. the existence of evidence of an interpreter advantage in WM – at least in simultaneous interpreting;

  2. verbal tasks demonstrating this advantage more expressly;

  3. the claim that more experience in simultaneous interpreting gives a greater interpreter WM advantage, although some findings indicate that there is a threshold in the development of this advantage, which is reached at an intermediate stage of interpreting experience, and not passed with more experience.

In view of these results, we find it very relevant to test the WM capacity of spoken language interpreters who mainly work in the short consecutive mode. One such category is dialogue interpreters, working for instance in the public service sector. As far as we have been able to establish, there has not been any study on WM functions in dialogue interpreters.

2.2 Dialogue interpreting and cognition

We define dialogue interpreting as short consecutive interpreting (often utterance by utterance), with two or more participants in one conversation. In dialogue interpreting the interpreter works in both directions; this type of interpreting is common in the public sector (for instance medical encounters, job counseling). Simultaneous elements may also occur (cf. sign language interpreting). Dialogue interpreting has been and is often studied using conversation analysis (cf. Wadensjö, 1998).

In dialogue interpreting, the dialogue interpreter perceives an utterance in one language and renders it in its entirety in another language. The cognitive processes involved in this are related to perceiving the utterance, understanding it, storing it and recalling it for transfer into the other language, and producing it in the other language. These processes can take place both concurrently and/or consecutively. Just like in simultaneous conference interpreting, this involves simultaneous processing of utterances in two languages, and also constant switching between the two languages.

WM is involved in executing, monitoring and coordinating these processes, as well as problem solving. However, an important difference between the cognitive processing of dialogue and simultaneous interpreting is that simultaneous interpreters speak and listen simultaneously, which normally is not the case in dialogue interpreting. WM is also needed to monitor one's own interpreting process, taking into account cognitive constraints as well as the talk and interaction of other participants (Tiselius & Englund Dimitrova, 2023). The dialogue interpreter furthermore has limited opportunities to reduce the cognitive load through, for instance, taking notes or simultaneous production. In view of this, we find it reasonable to assume that dialogue interpreters will show an advantage in their WM capacity similar to that already evidenced for simultaneous interpreters. This assumption is strengthened by the results of Dong et al. (2018), who carried out a longitudinal study of WM capacity in students of consecutive interpreting, comparing them with a control group of L2 learners who had not been given interpreter training. Their study shows the importance of the updating function of WM, which is necessary to screen and code information and subsequently replace it with new information, connected to the function of storing the incoming utterance and recalling it for transfer and production. They conclude that “…updating efficiency (even when measured by a non-verbal version of the n-back task as in the present study) is more central to the CI [consecutive interpretation] task than WM size, at least for beginning student interpreters like ours, and is therefore more exercised in CI training, leading to an interpreter advantage in updating efficiency” (Dong et al., 2018, p. 10).

2.3 Hypotheses of the study

In order to investigate our research questions, we formulated the following two hypotheses:

  1. There will be measurable significant differences in WM tests between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters, and

  2. There will be no significant differences in WM tests between experienced dialogue interpreters and experienced simultaneous conference interpreters.

3 Method and participants

This study is part of a larger project.5 The larger project comprised psychometric WM tests, language proficiency tests, an emotional intelligence test, and a video and eye-tracking recorded, semi-scripted interpreted encounter followed by a retrospective interview; however, this paper reports only the results from the psychometric tests.

3.1 Method

Participants were on site at university premises, and completed the whole data collection process in one session. The psychometric test battery was the initial part of the data collection for each participant. First, a general intelligence test, a so-called Raven test, was administered by pen and paper to all participants. After the Raven test, the participants completed computer-based WM tests with the aim of measuring executive functions. Since the data set of this study is drawn from a larger project with a mixed-methods design, the participants also took the Dialang test (Huhta, Luoma, Oscarson, Sajavaara, & Teasdale, 2002) and interpreted a simulated job counseling encounter after the working memory tests.

As WM is not directly observable, the tests were chosen with the aim of reflecting the components of WM, in which interpreters have previously shown an advantage as compared to bilinguals (see above), and in which we could possibly trace an effect of experience for dialogue interpreting. Given the desire to compare experienced dialogue interpreters with experienced simultaneous interpreters, some of the tests chosen were also the same as those used by Timarová (2012). The tests chosen covered the following areas:

  1. verbal memory, which is memory involved in identifying and remembering words and other abstract entities related to language. The tests chosen were:

    1. a letter span task. The test consists of strings of individual letters that the participants see and are then asked to recall in the order the letters were presented.

    2. an operation span task. In this test, the participants were first shown three to seven consonants (randomly generated by the software out of 12 possible), then told to perform an intervening arithmetic operation (e.g., (2 × 6) - 4 = ?), and then asked to recall the consonants shown before the arithmetic operation.

  2. visuospatial memory, which is needed for keeping track of the location of moving objects in order to remain oriented in space. The test chosen here was:

    1. the matrix span, where the task is to recall the position of two to seven red squares in a 4 × 4 grid.

  3. updating, which is the WM function allowing us to screen and code information, and then replace it with new information. It is relevant for instance for decoding and remembering verbal information or anticipating information. The test chosen was

    1. the 2-back test, which consisted in showing the participants a series of letters, one by one, and then asking them to judge whether the currently shown letter is identical to the one shown two steps back. The participants therefore have to constantly hold in memory the two previous letters in order to fulfill the task.

  4. dual tasking and attention switching, which require a lot of general WM resources and also reflect processing capacity limits. These are skills that interpreters presumably possess or develop. The test chosen here was

    1. the Barrouillet test (Lépine, Bernardin & Barrouillet, 2005). The Barrouillet test is similar to the operation span task (string of letters + arithmetic operation or parity judgment), but the Barrouillet test also takes increased attention load and its effect on memory task performance into account. This is created by increasing the speed at which the tasks are presented.

Participants also took the arrow flanker test, which is a test of resistance to interference. This is a test where the participants' ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli is tested, a skill probably relevant for interpreting. However, due to a malfunction the data for this test was lost.

As shown above, these tests cover several different aspects of WM. We have in particular been interested in areas that would be more relevant to show the effect of interpreting expertise. As already mentioned, some of the tests (namely the letter span, the 2-back and the Barrouillet) were chosen in particular to be able to compare the results of our experienced interpreters to those of Timarová’s (2012) study on WM. Timarová studied 28 conference interpreters with Dutch (n = 8) or Czech (n = 20) L1 and with English as one of their working languages.

The test was administered and answered via computer, but for the letter span test and the Barrouillet test the participants responded (i.e., noted down the letters they were asked to recall) with pen and paper. In order to analyse the data from these tests, the researchers first had to feed the answers from the response sheets into a raw data excel file. After this primary preparation of the data, the results from the tests were analyzed statistically, and the difference between the different groups of participants were checked using a t-test.

3.2 Participants

Fifteen interpreters with different levels of experience and different language backgrounds participated in the study. All participants had Swedish as one of their working languages.

As can be seen from Table 2, there were eight experienced participants, all of whom had Swedish in combination with either French, Spanish or Polish. All eight were state authorized with at least five years of working experience. The remaining seven participants were inexperienced interpreters who had Swedish in combination with one of the three just-mentioned languages. The inexperienced interpreters were either students in their last term (of three) at Stockholm University's full time bachelor course in public service interpreting (n = 5) or had completed a folk high school programme6 and had one year of interpreting experience (n = 2).

Table 2.

Participants: Experienced (n = 8) and inexperienced (n = 7)

LanguageExperiencedInexperienced
NAge (mean)Experience (mean)GenderNAge (mean)Gender
French352.348.6F333F
Spanish351.34232M:1F248F
Polish249.58F227.5F

Participants were found via recruitment in the interpreting programmes at Stockholm University (inexperienced interpreters), and via e-mail sent to Swedish state authorized interpreters with the desired language combinations (experienced interpreters). The recent graduates from the folk high school programme were recruited through personal contacts. Participants were paid for their time. Students were paid the standard amount used at university for student jobs, and professionals were paid the same hourly rate as for interpreting an hour in court. The total remunerated number of hours per person was six. All participants were informed about the project and signed an informed consent form before starting the data collection. The project was given ethical approval by the ethical review board of the Stockholm region (2017/2208-31).

The participants used as a comparison group in order to test hypothesis 2 were those recruited for Timarová's (2012, p. 92) study. She recruited 28 participants (18 female and 10 male) for her study, all of whom were conference interpreters. The inclusion criteria were being an active professional interpreter accredited to work at EU institutions with L1 either Czech (n = 20, 5 male) or Dutch (n = 8, 3 male) and with English in the language combination. Participants had a university diploma and were between 25 and 55 years of age. They had between 1 and 25 years of professional practice, the average being 11.9 years (SD = 6.9 years).

4 Results

In this section we give the results from the psychometric testing described above. Tables 38 report on the comparison of inexperienced and experienced dialogue public service interpreters and Tables 911 report on the results of the comparison between the experienced dialogue public service interpreters in our study and the experienced simultaneous conference interpreters in Timarová's (2012) study.

Table 3.

Raven test scores: Inexperienced (n = 7) and experienced (n = 8)

NMax scoreMin scoreRangeMean scoreSTDV.S
Inexperienced711658.571.62
Experienced811839.131.13
Table 4.

Letter span (proportion of correct answers): Inexperienced (n = 7) and experienced (n = 8)

NMSDRange
Inexperienced70.420.340.06–0.59
Experienced80.460.330.09–0.72
Table 5.

Operation span score: Inexperienced (n = 6) and experienced (n = 7)

NO-scoreSDMaxMinO-totalSDMaxMin
Inexperienced60.430.180.690.190.730.130.840.51
Experienced70.580.271.000.240.760.181.000.49
Table 6.

Matrix span score: Inexperienced (n = 7) and experienced (n = 8)

NM-scoreSDMaxMinM-totalSDMaxMin
Inexperienced70.380.170.740.200.670.120.910.51
Experienced80.440.170.670.160.680.140.830.44
Table 7.

2-back (proportion of correct answers): Inexperienced (n = 7) and experienced (n = 8)

NMSDRange
Inexperienced70.760.180.32–0.92
Experienced80.740.180.36–0.90
Table 8.

Barrouillet (fast and slow recall): Inexperienced (n = 5) and experienced (n = 8)

NMSDRange
Inexperienced51.030.300.32–0.78
Experienced80.940.270.54–1.39
Table 9.

Letter span (proportion correct answers): Experienced simultaneous interpreters (n = 28) and experienced dialogue interpreters (n = 8)

NMSDRange
Simultaneous interpreters280.630.130.40–0.92
Exp. dialogue interpreters80.460.330.09–0.72
Table 10.

2-back (proportion correct answers): Experienced simultaneous interpreters (n = 27) and experienced dialogue interpreters (n = 8)

NMSDRange
Simultaneous interpreters270.890.060.72–0.97
Exp. dialogue interpreters80.740.180.36–0.90
Table 11.

Barrouillet (fast and slow recall): Experienced simultaneous interpreters (n = 26) and experienced dialogue interpreters (n = 8)

NMSDRange
Simultaneous interpreters260.980.160.67–1.3
Exp. dialogue interpreters80.940.270.54–1.39

4.1 Experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters

The results from the Raven test can be found in Table 3. The p-value for the difference between the two groups was 0.46 (t = 0.765, df = 13, std err = 0.732) and thus not significant.

Tables 4 and 5 give the results from the verbal memory tests. Table 4 shows the result from the letter span test. The p-value for the difference between the two groups was 0.82 (t = −0.231, df = 13, std err = 0.173) and thus not significant.

The results from the operation span tests are shown in Table 5. Unfortunately, for this test, data from two participants was lost. The p-value for the difference between the two groups was 0.27 (t = −1.155, df = 11, std err = 0.13) for the operation score and 0.74 for the (t = −0.339, df = 11, std err = 0.089) operation total. No significant difference could thus be established.

For visuospatial memory, results from the matrix span test are shown in Table 6. The p-value for the difference between the two groups was 0.51 (t = −0.682, df = 13, std err = 0.088) for the matrix score and 0.88 (t = −0.147, df = 13, std err = 0.068) for the matrix total. Hence no significant difference could be established.

In Table 7, results from the 2-back test, measuring updating capacity, are shown. The p-value for the difference between the two groups was 0.83 (t = 0.215, df = 13, std err = 0.093) and thus no significant difference was established.

Table 8 shows the results of the Barrouillet test, on dual tasking and switching. Barrouillet has a fast recall task and a slow recall task. In Table 8, the average of both tests is given. For the Barrouillet test there was also a data loss from two participants. However, once again the p-value for the difference between experienced and inexperienced participants was not significant (p = 0.59, t = 0.561, df = 11, std err = 0.160).

The results above are all related to our first hypothesis, which stated that we would find measurable significant differences in WM tests between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters. This hypothesis was not confirmed, we found no significant differences between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters in any of the collected test data.

4.2 Experienced dialogue interpreters and experienced simultaneous interpreters

We next present a comparison between Timarová's experienced simultaneous conference interpreters and the experienced dialogue public service interpreters who participated in this study. The comparison with Timarová is done with the WM tests for letter span (verbal memory), 2-back (updating) and Barrouillet (general WM) (Timarová, 2012, p. 94, Table 5.2).

Table 9 shows the results for the verbal memory test. The average portion of correct answers for the conference interpreters was 0.63 and for dialogue interpreters it was 0.46. This difference was significant with a p-value of 0.0317 (t = 2,240, df = 34, std err = 0.076).

In Table 10, we give the results for the portion of correct answers in the 2-back test measuring updating capacity. Timarová’s conference interpreting participants had a proportion of correct answers of 0.89 and our dialogue interpreting participants' proportion of correct answers was 0.74. This difference is significant with a p-value of 0.0006 (t = 3.782, df = 33, std err = 0.040).

Finally, Table 11 shows the result of a general WM test, i.e., the Barrouillet test. The figures show the average of the two conditions in the test, viz. fast recall and slow recall. In the Barrouillet test the simultaneous interpreters' mean is 0.98 and the dialogue interpreters' mean is 0.94. This difference is not significant, with a p-value of 0.61 (t = 0.522, df = 32, std err = 0.077).

Our hypothesis 2 stated that we would not find significant differences in WM tests between experienced dialogue interpreters and experienced simultaneous interpreters. To test it, we compared our experienced participants with simultaneous conference interpreters in Timarová’s study. As can be seen in Tables 9 and 10, the participants in Timarová’s study outperformed the experienced dialogue interpreters in our study. There were significant differences in the test results for verbal memory, updating, visuospatial memory between the dialogue interpreters in our study and the conference simultaneous interpreters in Timarová’s study. However, for the general working memory test (Barrouillet), Table 11, there were NO significant differences in the test results between the two groups.

5 Discussion

Although the raw data show some advantage for the experienced interpreters, our study has not been able to confirm statistically significant differences in WM capacity between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters. On the other hand, it did show statistically significant differences between experienced dialogue interpreters and experienced simultaneous interpreters, with the simultaneous interpreters outperforming the dialogue interpreters. Hence, this study has not been able to show an effect of experience in the WM capacity of dialogue interpreters.

There are certain limitations to our study. First is the low number of participants, with eight experienced and seven inexperienced participants. As this is, to our knowledge, the first working memory study focusing on dialogue interpreters, we tried to compensate for this by comparing our results to those of Timarová (2012), but due to differences between our respective research designs, such comparisons can only be done to a limited degree.

Several factors may influence WM capacity, including participant characteristics such as age and possibly experience (although not confirmed here). It is also important to note that the different professions compared here have a different profile with different student populations, and different entrance requirements to the programmes. It is impossible to generalize about all interpreter education or training programmes, but as has been shown by Timarová and Ungoed-Thomas (2008), among others, candidates for conference interpreter training programs are tested for both language competence and memory skills. The training programmes undertaken by the public service interpreters involved in this study do not have the same type of entrance tests; the entrance tests focus mostly on language competence. These factors may impact WM capacity in the different populations.

It should be noted that our inexperienced participants were inexperienced in comparison to our experienced participants, but they did not totally lack interpreting experience. They had taken a course in public service interpreting lasting for three semesters (60 weeks) of full-time study. Hence, if we compare their results with those of the participants in the consecutive interpreting study by Dong et al. (2018), our participants were over and above their participants at the end of their longitudinal study. It may be the case that the effect of interpreter training and/or experience on the updating capacity of WM sets in after a fairly short period of training/experience of consecutive interpreting (as indeed indicated by the results obtained by Dong et al., 2018), which could be the explanation for the statistically non-significant difference between our two participant groups in this respect. Perhaps training/experience in simultaneous interpreting serves to further enhance updating capacity and other memory functions in the WM test battery. This would then explain the significant difference in this respect between Timarová’s experienced conference interpreters and our experienced dialogue interpreters, as our participants mainly work in the consecutive mode.

Furthermore, other aspects of the research design and data collection and analysis may have influenced the results. These include the previously-discussed low number of participants, as well as the participants' language combinations, the heterogeneity of the linguistic backgrounds of participants (Tiselius & Englund Dimitrova, 2019) and the selection of the WM tests. The data discussed in this article was part of a project with mixed-methods design, involving both quantitative and qualitative data analysis, which partly affected the data collection procedure, particularly in terms of size and heterogeneity of the groups. This group design was beneficial for the more qualitative studies of the project, but admittedly less so for this quantitative part. Yet, we argue that the reporting of the results might be beneficial for any similar attempts to study WM in dialogue interpreters.

The main strength of the study is the fact that it is, to our knowledge, the first study explicitly exploring WM capacity of dialogue interpreters. A second strength (albeit not reported on in this paper) is the wide variety of data collected from our study participants (scripted roleplay, retrospection, eye-tracking data). This will allow for triangulation on the individual level, which is planned as a next step. In a recent publication based on the role-play data (Tiselius & Englund Dimitrova, 2021), we suggested that turn-taking patterns may be connected to working memory capacity. We proposed the notion of the dialogue interpreter's processing span – that is, the duration of a coupled turn starting when a speaker starts an utterance and finishing when the interpreter has rendered it into the other language (c.f., Geiger Poignant, 2020, coupled turn) – as being related to the interpreter's working memory and possibly a universal cognitive constraint comparable to ear-voice span (lag) in simultaneous interpreting (Barik, 1973; Cokely, 1986; de Groot, 1997; Goldman-Eisler, 1972; Lee, 2002).

6 Conclusion

In this study we have compared the performance of three different groups of interpreters on various WM tests. Our hypotheses were that there would be measurable significant differences in WM tests between experienced and inexperienced dialogue interpreters, and that there would be no significant differences in WM tests between experienced dialogue interpreters and experienced simultaneous conference interpreters. The first hypothesis was not confirmed. The second hypothesis was confirmed for only one WM test, the Barrouillet, where we found no significant differences between experienced dialogue interpreters and experienced simultaneous conference interpreters. For the other WM tests our second hypothesis was not confirmed.

We can conclude that more knowledge is needed about cognition in dialogue interpreting. It is therefore highly desirable to include dialogue interpreters as a separate participant group in future studies on interpreters' WM capacity. Another understudied group in the context of WM capacity is sign language interpreters, who often interpret dialogues, but usually simultaneously. Only full representation of different types of interpreters in experimental studies can further our understanding of the similarities and differences between different groups of interpreters.

It could be argued that by reporting mostly non-significant results, we do not report anything “new.” However, we believe that the main novelty of our study is that it addresses a research gap, by paying attention to interpreter populations that have so far been mostly neglected as participants in cognitive interpreting studies.

We believe that it is important to report the results of the study, in view of the fact that this is the first study reporting psychometric tests with dialogue interpreters as participants. Reporting is also a question of research ethics, out of consideration for the interpreters, who generously accepted to participate, and out of respect for our funding body. We sincerely hope that other researchers will replicate our study. Our publication may then be of importance for comparison purposes, as well as for avoiding any mistakes we have made.

Acknowledgement

This work was supported by Swedish Research Council, VR 2016-01118.

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Huhta, A., Luoma S., Oscarson, M., Sajavaara, K., & Teasdale, A. (2002). DIALANG, A diagnostic language assessment system for adult learners. In Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment: Case studies, (pp. 130144). Dept. of Education, Language and Literature Unit in Gothenburg. https://rm.coe.int/168069f403.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, M., Schallert, D. L. & Carroll, P. J. (2004). Working memory and expertise in simultaneous interpreting. Interpreting, 6(1), 1942. https://doi.org/10.1075/intp.6.1.04liu.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Macnamara, B. N., & Conway, A. R. A. (2016). Working memory capacity as a predictor of simultaneous language interpreting performance. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 5(4), 434444. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2015.12.001.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
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1

This study was considered in Wen and Dong (2019), but excluded from the metaanalysis (see p. 773).

2

2011 in Ghiselli who refers to an online first version of Signorelli 2012.

3

Referred to as 2011 in Ghiselli who used an online first version.

4

2011 in Ghiselli who refers to an online first version of Signorelli 2012.

5

Invisible process? Opening the black box of the community interpreter. Swedish Research Council 2017–2023 (VR 2016-01118).

6

The folk high schools are a post-secondary education common in countries in northern Europe. It is a publicly funded system based on a pedagogical philosophy of education as universal and common (Frímannsson, 2006). Academic topics may be offered, but they do not grant academic degrees. Depending on the programme, folk high schools are open to students both with and without secondary education, however, interpreting programmes always require a secondary education degree and a successful entrance test.

  • Babcock, L. (2015). The neurocognitive fingerprint of simultaneous interpretation. PhD Thesis. Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati. https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11767/3895.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Babcock, L., Capizzi, M., Arbula, S., & Vallesi, A. (2017). Short-term memory improvement after simultaneous interpretation training. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 1(3), 254267. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-017-0011-x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Babcock, L., & Vallesi, A. (2017). Are simultaneous interpreters expert bilinguals, unique bilinguals, or both? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 20(2), 403417. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728915000735.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 8, 4789. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0079-7421(08)60452-1.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bajo, M. T., Padilla, F., & Padilla, P. (2000). Comprehension processes in simultaneous interpreting. In A. Chesterman, N. Gallardo San Salvador, & Y. Gambier (Eds.), Translation in context (pp. 127142). John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/btl.39.15baj.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barik, H. C. (1973). Simultaneous interpretation: Temporal and quantitative data. Language and Speech, 16, 237270. https://doi.org/10.1177/002383097301600307.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chmiel, A. (2018). In search of the working memory advantage in conference interpreting – Training, experience and task effects. International Journal of Bilingualism, 22(3), 371384. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006916681082.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Christoffels, I. K., de Groot, A. M. B., & Kroll, J. F. (2006). Memory and language skills in simultaneous interpreters: The role of expertise and language proficiency. Journal of Memory and Language, 54(3), 324345. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2005.12.004.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Christoffels, I. K., de Groot, A. M. B., & Waldorp, L. J. (2003). Basic skills in a complex task: A graphical model relating lexical retrieval, working memory, and simultaneous interpreting. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6 ,201211. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728903001135.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cokely, D. (1986). The effects of lag time on interpreter errors. Sign Language Studies, 53, 341375. https://doi.org/10.1353/sls.1986.0025.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dong, Y., & Liu, Y. (2016). Classes in translating and interpreting produce differential gains in switching and updating. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1297. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01297.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dong, Y., Liu, Y., & Cai, R. (2018). How does consecutive interpreting training influence working memory: A longitudinal study of potential links between the two. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 875. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00875.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Frímannsson, G. H. (2006). Introduction: Is there a nordic model in education? Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50(3), 223228. https://doi.org/10.1080/00313830600743233.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Geiger Poignant, E. (2020). Tolkade publika författarsamtal: Berättande och triadisk interaktion över språkgränser [Interpreted public literary conversations: Storytelling and triadic interaction across language boundaries] PhD Thesis. Stockholm University. Retrieved from http://su.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:1417217.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ghiselli, S. (2022). Working memory tasks in interpreting studies: A meta-analysis. Translation, Cognition & Behavior, 5(1), 5083. https://doi.org/10.1075/tcb.00063.ghi.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goldman-Eisler, F. (1972). Segmentation of input in simultaneous translation. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 1(2), 127140. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01068102.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Groot, A. M. B. (1997). The cognitive study of translation and interpretation. Three approaches. In J. H. Danks, G. M. Shreve, S. B. Fountain, & M. K. McBeath (Eds.), Cognitive processes in translation and interpretation (pp. 2556). Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hiltunen, S., Pääkkönen, R., Vik, G.-V., & Krause, C. M. (2016). On interpreters’ working memory and executive control. International Journal of Bilingualism, 20(3), 297314. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006914554406.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Huhta, A., Luoma S., Oscarson, M., Sajavaara, K., & Teasdale, A. (2002). DIALANG, A diagnostic language assessment system for adult learners. In Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment: Case studies, (pp. 130144). Dept. of Education, Language and Literature Unit in Gothenburg. https://rm.coe.int/168069f403.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Injoque-Ricle, I., Barreyro, J. P., Formoso, J., & Jaichenco, V. (2015). Expertise, working memory and articulatory suppression effect: Their relation with simultaneous interpreting performance. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 11(2), 5663. https://doi.org/10.5709/acp-0171-1.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Köpke, B., & Nespoulous, J.-L. (2006). Working memory performance in expert and novice interpreters. Interpreting, 8(1), 123. https://doi.org/10.1075/intp.8.1.02kop.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lee, T.-H. (2002). Ear-voice span in English into Korean simultaneous interpretation. Meta, 47(4), 596606. https://doi.org/10.7202/008039ar.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lépine, R., Bernardin, S., & Barrouillet, P. (2005). Attention switching and working memory spans. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 17(3), 329345. https://doi.org/10.1080/09541440440000014.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, M. (2001). Expertise in simultaneous interpreting: A working memory analysis. PhD Thesis, the University of Texas at Austin. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/expertise-simultaneous-interpreting-working/docview/304720459/se-2.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, M., Schallert, D. L. & Carroll, P. J. (2004). Working memory and expertise in simultaneous interpreting. Interpreting, 6(1), 1942. https://doi.org/10.1075/intp.6.1.04liu.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Macnamara, B. N., & Conway, A. R. A. (2016). Working memory capacity as a predictor of simultaneous language interpreting performance. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 5(4), 434444. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2015.12.001.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mellinger, C. D., & Hanson, T. A. (2019). Meta-analyses of simultaneous interpreting and working memory. Interpreting, 21(2), 165195. https://doi.org/10.1075/intp.00026.mel.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nour, S., Struys, E., & Stengers, H. (2020). Adaptive control in interpreters: Assessing the impact of training and experience on working memory. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 23(4), 772779. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728920000127.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Padilla, P., Bajo, M. T., Cañas, J. J., & Padilla, F. (1995). Cognitive processes of memory in simultaneous interpretation. In J. Tommola (Ed.), Topics in interpreting research (pp. 6171). Turku: University of Turku Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rosenthal, R. (1979). The file drawer problem and tolerance for null results. Psychological Bulletin, 86(3), 638641. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.86.3.638.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rosiers, A., Woumans, E., Duyck W., & Eyckmans, J. (2019). Investigating the presumed cognitive advantage of aspiring interpreters. Interpreting, 21(1), https://doi.org/10.1075/intp.00022.ros.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rothstein, H. R., Sutton, A. J., & Borenstein, M. (Eds.). (2005). Publication bias in meta-analysis: Prevention, assessment and adjustments. John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/0470870168.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Signorelli, T. M., Haarmann, H. J., & Obler, L. K. (2012). Working memory in simultaneous interpreters: Effects of task and age. International Journal of Bilingualism, 16(2), 198212. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006911403200.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stavrakaki, S., Megari, K., Kosmidis, M. H., Apostolidou, M., & Takou, E. (2012). Working memory and verbal fluency in simultaneous interpreters. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 34(6), 624633. https://doi.org/10.1080/13803395.2012.667068.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Timarová, S. (2012). Working memory in conference simultaneous interpreting. PhD Thesis. Charles University.

  • Timarová, Š., & Ungoed-Thomas, H. (2008). Admission testing for interpreting courses. The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, 2(1), 2946.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tiselius, E. (2013). Experience and expertise in conference interpreting: An investigation of Swedish conference interpreters. PhD Thesis. University of Bergen. https://bora.uib.no/bora-xmlui/handle/1956/8747.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tiselius, E., & Englund Dimitrova, B. (2019). Asymmetrical language proficiency in dialogue interpreters: Methodological issues. Translation, Cognition & Behavior, 2(2), 305322. https://doi.org/10.1075/tcb.00031.tis.

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  • Tiselius, E., & Englund Dimitrova, B. (2021). Turn-taking in dialogue interpreting – Coping with cognitive constraints. Cognitive Linguistic Studies, 8(2), 328355. https://doi.org/10.1075/cogls.00081.tis.

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  • Tiselius, E., & Englund Dimitrova, B. (2023). Monitoring in dialogue interpreting – cognitive and didactic perspectives. In L. Gavioli & C. Wadensjö (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Public Service Interpreting (pp. 309324). Routledge.

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  • Tzou, Y.-Z., Eslami, Z. R., Chen, H.-C., & Vaid, J. (2012). Effect of language proficiency and degree of formal training in simultaneous interpreting on working memory and interpreting performance: Evidence from Mandarin–English speakers. International Journal of Bilingualism, 16(2), 213227. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006911403197.

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Author Guidelines are available in PDF format.
Please, download the file from HERE.

 

Editor-in-Chief: Kinga KLAUDY (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)

Consulting Editor: Pál HELTAI (Kodolányi János University, Hungary)

Managing Editor: Krisztina KÁROLY (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)

EDITORIAL BOARD

  • Andrew CHESTERMAN (University of Helsinki, Finland)
  • Kirsten MALMKJÆR (University of Leicester, UK)
  • Christiane NORD (University of Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa)
  • Anthony PYM (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain, University of Melbourne, Australia)
  • Mary SNELL-HORNBY (University of Vienna, Austria)
  • Sonja TIRKKONEN-CONDIT (University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland)

ADVISORY BOARD

  • Mona BAKER (Shanghai International Studies University, China, University of Oslo, Norway)
  • Łucja BIEL (University of Warsaw, Poland)
  • Gloria CORPAS PASTOR (University of Malaga, Spain; University of Wolverhampton, UK)
  • Rodica DIMITRIU (Universitatea „Alexandru Ioan Cuza” Iasi, Romania)
  • Birgitta Englund DIMITROVA (Stockholm University, Sweden)
  • Sylvia KALINA (Cologne Technical University, Germany)
  • Haidee KOTZE (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
  • Sara LAVIOSA (Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, Italy)
  • Brian MOSSOP (York University, Toronto, Canada)
  • Orero PILAR (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain)
  • Gábor PRÓSZÉKY (Hungarian Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungary)
  • Alessandra RICCARDI (University of Trieste, Italy)
  • Edina ROBIN (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)
  • Myriam SALAMA-CARR (University of Manchester, UK)
  • Mohammad Saleh SANATIFAR (independent researcher, Iran)
  • Sanjun SUN (Beijing Foreign Studies University, China)
  • Anikó SOHÁR (Pázmány Péter Catholic University,  Hungary)
  • Sonia VANDEPITTE (University of Gent, Belgium)
  • Albert VERMES (Eszterházy Károly University, Hungary)
  • Yifan ZHU (Shanghai Jiao Tong Univeristy, China)

Prof. Kinga Klaudy
Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Translation and Interpreting
Múzeum krt. 4. Bldg. F, I/9-11, H-1088 Budapest, Hungary
Phone: (+36 1) 411 6500/5894
Fax: (+36 1) 485 5217
E-mail: 

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Across Languages and Cultures
Language English
Size B5
Year of
Foundation
1999
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per Year
1
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per Year
2
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H-1117 Budapest, Hungary 1516 Budapest, PO Box 245.
Publisher Akadémiai Kiadó
Publisher's
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Chief Executive Officer, Akadémiai Kiadó
ISSN 1585-1923 (Print)
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