When an interpreter goes faster or slower than the original speaker it usually reflects not uncertainty but rather differences in cultures. Different cultures have different priorities and their languages reflect it. When a target language has many words that describe different aspects of a concept, an interpretation won’t take as long. When an interpreter has to paraphrase a concept that the target language has no matching word for, it will take longer.

Lexiconic Language Differences

Here are some ways in which language lexicon and related cultures differ, which ultimately cause a difference in speed of interpretation. Lexicon, originally a Greek word, refers to the words of a language (not its grammar):

  • Kinship is key in Thailand’s culture, but Thai differentiates kin mainly by age, not gender. So the language has words like pii (older sibling), nawng (younger sibling), naa (mother’s younger sibling), and paa (father/mother’s older sister) that don’t have equivalents in many other languages. Russia is similar, with unique words in its native language to describe extended family and in-law kinships – 15 different words to describe various in-laws alone, many of which are difficult to translate into English.
  • In the Americas maize (corn) has been a staple of native cuisine for centuries. Their languages produced unique terminology for foods derived from corn that no other language originally shared: taco, burrito, quesadilla, tamales, hominy, cancha (toasted kernels), chicha (a corn drink). The procedures for processing maize also produced unique words, e.g. nixtamalization (soaking maize in alkali).
  • The United States is the original computer techie country, so U.S. English generates new words or new meanings of words on a continuous basis that other countries take on when computers become important to them: nerd, Internet, firewall, software, gigabyte, social media.
  • The French have polished the art of love, or at least waxing eloquent about love, producing such words as: naiveté, amité, adoré, amorous, fiancé, courtesán, marriage.
  • India developed the yogic arts, and Sanskrit has many words that describe that practice and the body: chakra, asana, mantra, yoga and its derivations, samadhi (the ecstasy that comes from pure focus).

Effects of Lexical Gaps on Translation

Knowing ahead of time why an interpreter’s description of a speech will vary in timing from that of the speaker can relieve a speaker’s worries. It’s all about culture and how the two languages compare. Remember that Dialog One can provide skilled interpreters for most languages.