Investigating Expressions of Pain and Emotion in Authentic Interpreted Medical Consultations: “But I Am Afraid, You Know, That It Will Get Worse”

Investigating Expressions of Pain and Emotion in Authentic Interpreted Medical Consultations: “But I Am Afraid, You Know, That It Will Get Worse”

Gertrud Hofer
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 29
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9308-9.ch006
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


This descriptive study, which is based on a PhD research conducted at the University of Zurich and at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, explores the activity of interpreters. At first sight, the interactions between patients and doctors seem to be fluently and smoothly interpreted. Yet, a closer look at the transcripts of the consultations reveals various conversational difficulties. A striking issue in this data set are the patients' complaints about pain and anxieties which do not always reach the doctors or the nurses, because the interpreters cut out affective parts in their renditions. In such cases, the patients' concerns may simply be lost which prevents doctors or nurses from responding on the emotional level. In other situations, however, the doctors or the nurses miss the opportunity to address the patients' feelings, even if the interpreters convey the patients' concerns to them.
Chapter Preview


The demographic development leads worldwide to an increasing need of providing interpreting services in institutional settings for participants who do not speak the same language (see e.g. Roat & Crezee, 2015, p. 236). Since the 1990s there is a growing body of research on interpreting in legal, educational, social, and medical settings (see Napier, 2011, p. 123). In Switzerland reference to the need for interpreting services is found at the beginning of the 20th century which is rather late in comparison with countries like Australia, Canada or Sweden (see e.g. Faucherre, Weber, Singy, Guex, & Stiefel, 2010). The set-up of interpreting services differs from country to country. “Community Interpreting (CI), or public service interpreting (PSI) as it is also commonly known, is a service that is invariably rooted in the communities and societies that require and provide it. As such it reflects the practices, norms, standards, needs, demands and policies of these communities and societies. CI or PSI, as the double denomination already suggests, comes in many national and geographical variations and is impacted by societal and political forces at local, regional, national and international levels …” (Remael & Carroll, 2015, p. 1). Interpreting in institutional settings is known under even more than these two names. There is an “insistent debate over what the field should be called that is termed ‘Public Service Interpreting,’ but also ‘community interpreting,’ ‘dialogue interpreting,’ ‘liaison interpreting,’ ‘cultural interpreting’, ‘cultural mediation,’ and many other appellations including, simply, ‘interpreting’.” (Ozolins, 2010, p. 200)

In this chapter, the terms “dialogue interpreting” or “medical interpreting” will be used, as the focus is on the interactional activities and on the specifics of the management of the doctor-patient communication. Dialogue interpreters typically work in the consecutive mode and they attempt to reproduce the utterance of the previous speaker.

This chapter reports on a study using a small data set taken from PhD research based on a larger study. The team of researchers involved in the larger study compiled a corpus of 19 interactions amounting to 14:42 hours of video material. Studies investigating empiricial data are comparatively seldom, as access to authentic data is rather difficult (see e.g. Bot 2005). One of the hardly ever explored topics is the patients’ complaints of pain and of anxieties in relation to the interpreters’ rendering thereof and to the responses of the doctors or nurses.

The aim of this study is to investigate authentic interpreter-mediated interactions and to gain insight into how interpreters and primary interactants communicate in various medical settings. The primary interactants in three encounters are patients and doctors and in one encounter a patient and a nurse.

The focus of this contribution is on the following questions:

  • What is the interpreters’ impact on the content of the patients’ original utterances and on the emotional intensity of their complaints?

  • How do doctors or nurses respond to the renditions of the interpreters?

  • What effects do multimodal resources like direction of gaze, manual gestures and head turns have on the course of the interactions?



Medical interpreting is studied from various fields such as interpreting science (see among many others Hale, 2007; Menz, 2013; Meyer, 2004; Pöchhacker, 2007), medical sciences (see e.g. Aranguri, Davidson, & Ramirez, 2006; Butow, Brown, Cogar, Tattersall, & Dunn 2002; Fatahi, Hellström, Scott, & Mattsson, 2008; Morina, Maier, & Schmid Mast, 2010), or socio-linguistics (see e.g. Davidson, 2000).

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: