An Implicit Processing Mechanism for Interpretation: Effects of Semantic and Syntactic Priming

Mei Xu, Xiangjing Chen


Priming refers to an increased sensitivity to certain stimuli due to prior experience. This study tested the hypothesis that priming occurred during interpreting greatly promotes/speeds up the processing procedure at both the semantic and syntactic level, thereby improves the interpreter’s performance. Based on the analysis of real simultaneous interpreting data, it is suggested that priming exerts negative impacts such as frequent self-correction and inappropriate literal translations due to the semantic priming of the dominant first language (L1). In order to verify the conclusions of text analysis, we designed two experiments. In experiment I, a sentence-based semantic category judgment task was used to test the priming effect between prime (last word of the sentence) and target. Priming effects were confirmed to exist in second language (L2) lexical representation and processing. Meanwhile, the effects of cross-language semantic priming from dominant L1 to L2 were unequal in different proficiency level groups with more marked effects occurring in the more advanced group. The results support the semantic spreading activation model of semantic priming. Experiment II was designed to probe the long-term effects of structural priming by means of sentence recall and translation tasks. Primes consisted of transitive sentences in either an active or passive voice and sentences in either a prepositional-object or double-object form. The results suggested a stronger priming effect if the key verb in the source language had an equivalent in the target language due to the lexical priming effect or the translate-boost effect, with no robust priming effect being observed if the target language has no structural counterparts. The advanced interpreting students were found to be more accessible to the positive effects of cross-linguistic structural priming, suggesting it is asymmetrical but developmental as proficiency increases.
Keywords: Interpreting Studies; Priming Effect; Implicit Memory

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.

This journal is a publication of the CEME at UNC Charlotte