Exploring untrained interpreters’ use of direct versus indirect speech

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This study examines the interrelations between the use of direct vs. indirect speech by primary participants and by dialogue interpreters by focusing on pronoun shifts and their interactional functions. The data consist of four simulated interpreter-mediated medical interviews based on the same scripted role play. The subjects were untrained Arabic interpreters working for a Danish agency. Two of the four interpreters favoured the direct style of interpreting. The other two favoured the indirect style. The findings show that all four interpreters tended to identify with the patient by personalizing the indefinite pronoun <i>one</i> when relaying from doctor to patient. All other pronoun shifts occurred in connection with interactional problems caused almost exclusively by the interpreters’ lack of knowledge about medical terminology — even though the terms used were in fact non-specialized ones. The study also indicates that primary parties’ shifts from direct to indirect address are closely related either to the form or to the content of the interpreter’s prior utterance. Finally, it emerges that repeated one-language talk, triggered by the interpreter’s problems with medical terminology, can override the quasi-directness of communication between primary participants, which is connected with interpreting in the first person.


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