Exploring the impact of word order asymmetry on cognitive load during Chinese-English sight translation: Evidence from eye-movement data

Xingcheng Ma, Dechao Li, Yu Yin Hsu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This paper explores the impact of word order asymmetry between source language and target language on cognitive load during Chinese-English sight translation. Twenty-five MA students of translation from a Hong Kong university were asked to sight translate sentences with different degrees of between-language structural asymmetry from Chinese into English, in both single-sentence and discourse context conditions. Their eye movements were recorded to examine cognitive load during sight translation. The results show: (1) There was a significant effect of word order asymmetry on overall cognitive load as indicated by the considerably longer dwell times and more frequent fixations for the asymmetric sentences, but it was only during the later-processing stage that structural asymmetry exerted a strong influence on local processing in terms of first fixation duration and regression path duration; (2) the role of context in offsetting the asymmetry effect was very limited; and (3) although reordering may place a greater burden on working memory, most participants preferred reordering over segmentation to cope with the asymmetric structures. The empirical data point to the need to consider word order asymmetry as a variable in theoretical accounts of the interpreting process, especially for interpreting between languages that are structurally very different.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-131
Number of pages29
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2021


  • Cognitive load
  • Eye movements
  • Sight translation
  • Word order asymmetry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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