Bilingual health communication and medical interpreters: Managing role performances and communicative goals

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study examines medical interpreters' communicative strategies in naturalistic settings, explores the roles medical interpreters assume in health care settings, and provides a theory of bilingual health communication that accounts for individuals' (e.g., providers, patients, and interpreters) communicative behaviors in provider-patient interactions. This study includes data collected through participant observation of interpreter-mediated provider-patient interactions and individual/dyadic in-depth interviews with medical interpreters, which were analyzed through grounded theory methods. In total, 42 participants were recruited for this study, including 26 medical interpreters who represented 16 languages. The study examines interpreters' communicative strategies and role performances through three perspectives. First, I explore interpreters' self-perceived roles (i.e., conduit, advocate, manager, and professional) through their narratives, developing an insider perspective of how these roles were conceptualized and practiced by interpreters. Second, I investigate interpreters' conflicts in role performances and conflict resolutions. By demonstrating interpreters' sense of role conflicts, I examine the sources of conflicts (i.e., others' communicative practices, changes in participant dynamics, institutional constraints, and unrealistic expectations) in interpreters' role performances and classified interpreters' resolutions to these conflicts. Finally, based on the typology of roles (i.e., conduit, co-diagnostician, patient advocate, institutional manager, and professional) presented in the study, I analyze interpreters' roles and their corresponding communicative goals and strategies. The theory of bilingual health communication is presented to explain the effectiveness and appropriateness of the communicative strategies adopted by different individuals involved in medical encounters. In addition to demonstrating interpreters as active participants in provider-patient interactions, I theorize how the communicative goals of other speakers, institutions, and interpreters themselves can motivate interpreters to deviate from the original text in their interpretation. More importantly, I propose that interpreters act as stage managers, defining the stages for other participants, providing necessary props for the participants' appropriate performance, and controlling the stages to avoid provider-patient conflicts. Finally, I discuss how the study of interpreter-mediated interactions can contribute to the field of communication studies.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Place of PublicationUrbana, IL
StatePublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

by I-Ling Hsieh. 29 cm. Printout. Vita. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 267-306) Available on microfilm from Pro Quest Information and Learning.


  • Bilingual health communication Medical interpreters Translation Provider-patient communication


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