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Book: Interpreter-Mediated Healthcare Communication

Chapter: Understanding Interpreters’ Actions in Context

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.44096


This article examines the organization of interpreter-mediated communication and demonstrates that interpreters, as autonomous social actors, continuously monitor and analyze the unfolding interaction and make moment-by-moment decisions about their actions. Drawing on a larger conversation-analytic study of audio- and video-recorded consultations (24 in total) between English-speaking doctors, their Russian-speaking patients, and bilingual interpreters (ad hoc and professional), I present a close examination of short segments from two such consultations and show that interpreters’ involvement is not limited to translation. The article demonstrates that interpreters’ actions are shaped by the demands of the interactional and medical activities they are engaged in. The analysis focuses on two kinds of interpreter involvement: first, their management of situations in which participants experience difficulties in understanding each other; and, second, their participation in a physical examination that requires a close coordination of bodily actions. In the first case, interpreters’ orientations to their normative responsibilities as translators may compel them to act in ways that are divergent from doing translation per se. In the second case, we see that interpreters’ participation in the interaction may be primarily constrained by the demands of the ongoing physical examination and so be only minimally responsive to the talk produced by the other parties.

Chapter Contributors

  • Galina Bolden ( - gbolden) 'Rutgers University'