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Who is talking now? Role expectations and role materializations in interpreter-mediated healthcare encounters

Issue: Vol 15 No. 2 (2018) Special Issue: Interpreter-Mediated Healthcare Encounters

Journal: Communication & Medicine

Subject Areas: Healthcare Communication Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/cam.38679


Complex layers of meaning accompany conversations about illness and medicine in medical encounters. The complexity multiplies in multilingual healthcare encounters when interpreters are asked to bridge the cultural communities of the provider (and medicine) and the patient, not only by interpreting the languages used, but also by taking on different roles, coordinating talk and facilitating answers to questions that providers and patients raise as they communicate with one another. A sub-set of three segments of interpreter-mediated authentic interactions (n=392) are presented to explore the provider and healthcare interpreter’s responsibilities and challenges in constructing and co-constructing meaning in conversations about healthcare information. Findings suggest that interpreters do not volunteer to take on roles above and beyond the one of interpreting. Instead they are instructed to take on other roles which may not necessarily be aligned with their background or professional practice (e.g. explore medical history, explain the value of ratings on a pain scale). This study has implications for providers and interpreters in regards to responsibility and ethics when communicating with patients who do not use societal languages. 

Author: Claudia V. Angelelli

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