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Book: Interpreter-Mediated Healthcare Communication

Chapter: Who is Talking Now? Role Expectations and Role Materializations in Interpreter-mediated Healthcare Encounters

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.44095


Complex layers of meaning accompany conversations about illness and medicine in medical encounters. The complexity multiplies in multilingual healthcare interactions 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 subset 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 that of interpreting. However, 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.

Chapter Contributors

  • Claudia Angelelli ( - cangelelli) 'San Diego State University'