Macquarie University
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Exploring the process of note-taking and consecutive interpreting: a pen-eye-voice approach towards cognitive load

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posted on 2022-03-28, 22:40 authored by Sijia Chen
Interpreting is a cognitively challenging language-processing task. Ever since it became a subject of scientific research, there has been a strong interest in finding out what happens inside the black box of the interpreter's mind as they perform this extraordinary task. This thesis sets out to contribute empirical evidence to elucidate the process of consecutive interpreting (CI) and note-taking, with a particular focus on cognitive load inherent in these tasks. It collects data from pen recording, eye tracking and voice recording to find answers to key questions revolving around CI and note-taking. This thesis is presented in a thesis by publication format, with its chapters (except for the introductory and concluding chapters) being stand-alone peer-reviewed journal articles. The thesis begins with a review of the existing studies on note-taking in consecutive interpreting. It identifies the key variables of research: the choice of form (i.e., the choice between language and symbol, and the choice between abbreviation and full word), the choice of language (i.e., the choice between source and target language, and the choice between native and non-native language), and the relationship between note-taking and interpreting performance. After diagnosing two important limitations with previous studies - a lack of process research and a lack of empirical data - this review pinpoints cognitive load as a promising avenue for future investigations. Then, the thesis presents a theoretical and methodological discussion on the construct of cognitive load in interpreting and its measurement. Borrowing from adjacent fields in which cognitive load is more systematically studied, this thesis defines cognitive load in interpreting as a multi-dimensional construct which reflects the portion of an interpreter's limited cognitive capacity devoted to performing an interpreting task in a certain environment. It introduces the categories of cognitive load measures and a series of selection criteria. Considering that previous cognitive studies mostly focus on simultaneous interpreting, this thesis introduces techniques that can be used to study cognitive load in CI. To test the usefulness of some of the techniques proposed in the methodological discussion, a pilot study is conducted, the purpose of which is to devise a design that allows synchronised recording of pen and voice data, a combination that has been rarely applied in the field. This pilot study provides evidence that pen recording is a powerful method to tap into the process of note-taking and interpreting, thus paving the way for the main study of this PhD project. Findings of the pilot study are also informative for the hypotheses made in the next stage of the research. The main study of the PhD project is carried out by triangulating the methods of pen recording, eye tracking and voice recording to collect data on the process of note-taking and CI. It is found that interpreters prefer language to symbol notes and English (non-native language) to Chinese (native language) notes, regardless of the direction of interpreting. This is also the first study to visualise the activity of note-reading, showing that it proceeds in a non-linear fashion and requires significant cognitive cost. The pen and eye movement data collected in this study provide important indicators of cognitive load in note-writing, note-reading and interpreting. A combined analysis of the pen, eye and voice data shows that the note-taking choices are mainly affected by the cognitive demands, rather than the physical or temporal demands. However, the choices made by interpreters to lower the cognitive load in the first phase of CI are sometimes at the expense of interpreting performance. Furthermore, the study detects a trade-off between the cognitive costs of the two phases of CI. Understanding the nature of the cognitive processes involved in interpreting is not only beneficial to the field itself - to inform interpreter education, testing and continuing professional development - but also more generally enriches our understanding of bilingual language processing and human cognition. The methodological and empirical findings of the thesis contribute to that effort and outline possible avenues for future research.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction -- Chapter 2 Note-taking in consecutive interpreting: A review with special focus on Chinese and English literature -- Chapter 3 The construct of cognitive load in interpreting and its measurement -- Chapter 4 note-taking in consecutive interpreting: New data from pen recording -- Chapter 5 The process of note-taking and consecutive interpreting: Evidence from digital pen recording -- Chapter 6 An eye-tracking approach to note reading in consecutie interpreting: Reading patters and cognitive load -- Chapter 7 Summary, discussion and conclusion


Theoretical thesis. Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jan-Louis Kruger


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1 online resource (xiv, 186 pages) illustrations

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