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Roles of community interpreters in pediatrics as seen by interpreters, physicians and researchers

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Abstract

This paper is an attempt at defining more clearly the various roles of community interpreters and the processes implicitly connected with each of them. While the role of the interpreter is a subject that has been widely discussed in the social science literature, it is less present in the biomedical one, which tends to emphasize the importance of interpreting in overcoming language barriers, rather than as a means of building bridges between patients and physicians. Hence, studies looking at interpreted medical interactions suggest that the presence of an interpreter is more beneficial to the healthcare providers than to the patient. This statement is illustrated by the results of a recent study in a pediatric outpatient clinic in Switzerland. It is suggested that, in the consultations, interpreters act mainly as linguistic agents and health system agents and rarely as community agents. This is consistent with the pediatricians’ view of the interpreter as mainly a translating machine. A new typology of the varying roles of the interpreter is proposed, outlining the relation to cultural differences maintained therein. Some recommendations for the training of interpreters and healthcare providers are suggested.

References

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