Caution and compliance in medical encounters. Non-interpretation of hedges and phatic tokens


  • Michaela Albl-Mikasa ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences
  • Elisabeth Glatz ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences
  • Gertrud Hofer ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences
  • Marina Sleptsova University Hospital Basel


medical interpreting, cultural expressions, phatic tokens, hedges, conference interpreting perspective


Our paper is based on the Swiss research project ‘Interpreting in Medical Settings: Roles, Requirements and Responsibility’, which was supported by a grant of the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI) and carried out by an interdisciplinary team comprising medical specialists from the University Hospital of Basel (Marina Sleptsova and colleagues) and interpreting studies/applied linguistics researchers from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) (Gertrud Hofer and colleagues). It explores videotape transcriptions of 12 authentic interpreted conversations between German speaking doctors/medical staff and patients of Turkish or Albanian origin. The analysis finds that culture-specific expressions produced by the patients occur rarely and do not pose any interpreting problems. By contrast, phatic tokens and hedges play an important role in medical personnel’s presentation of their interactional, trust building, diagnostic and therapeutic intentions. Although these expressions are essential communication elements geared at building patients’ compliance and establishing doctors’ safeguards, they are rarely or inconsistently rendered by the interpreters. It is argued that, while medical interpreters may have plausible reasons not to render these expressions, they would still need to be made aware of the significance of such pragmatic aspects of communication in training courses and/or pre-encounter briefings. More generally, empirical research – similar to that on questioning style and questioning techniques – should focus more on the exploration of discourse markers, meta-discourse comments and rapport-building expressions of different types of utterance and discourse practices in healthcare interpreting settings.