Simultaneous interpreting requires the concurrent execution of multiple processes: listening, comprehension, conversion of a message from one language to another, speech production, and self-monitoring. This requires the deployment of an impressive array of linguistic and cognitive control mechanisms that must coordinate the various brain systems implicated in handling these tasks. Indeed, we might argue that simultaneous interpreting is one of the most demanding linguistic tasks that there is. Given that we normally use only one language at a time, even if we engage in dense code-switching, using two at once (as is essential for successful simultaneous interpretation) is an extraordinary feat. How does the brain handle the challenge of juggling two languages? How is the extreme language control capacity required during interpreting implemented?

In a longitudinal series of experiments on trainee interpreters and multilingual controls (Hervais-Adelman, Moser-Mercer, & Golestani, 2015; Hervais-Adelman, Moser-Mercer, Michel, & Golestani, 2015; Hervais-Adelman, Moser-Mercer, Murray, & Golestani, 2017), we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and structural MRI to examine the cerebral basis of interpretation, and the adaptations that arise functionally and structurally with the acquisition of expertise in interpreting.

We discovered that simultaneous interpretation recruits a broad swathe of brain areas; in addition to cortical structures that are well-known to be involved in speech perception, comprehension and production, we also found activity in the subcortical structures, namely the basal ganglia. These structures have an essential role in our ability to interact with the world in an adaptive manner – they hold the key to our ability to select, plan, learn and execute actions. Our results demonstrate that the language management and control elements of interpretation are handled by a system that is not specialized for language, but rather is responsible for the cognitive control of behavior in the most general terms. These insights have allowed us to contribute to theories of the control of language in the multilingual brain, and to begin to provide a neurocognitive framework to explore the cerebral basis for the existence, or not, of cognitive benefits arising from interpretation expertise (Hervais-Adelman & Babcock, 2019).

Referenser, se abstract.