Medical Interpreting and Cross-cultural Communication

Claudia V. Angelelli. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. vii + 153.
Reviewed by Pi-Chi Han

University of Missouri-St. Louis
Missouri, U.S.A.

The nature of any medical communicative event, bilingual or monolingual, is in itself complex. Intended as a broader review in the theories of cross-cultural communication for medical interpreters, Medical Interpreting and cross-cultural communication offers a clear review of different theories for readers from many different professions.

The book opens with a review of literature which examines the arguments between the roles of language interpreters. In the literature, there is an invisible interpreter and a visible one. The concept of the invisibility model has presumed that there is no interaction between interpreters and speakers and speakers themselves. Visible interpreters, who are the focus of this book, are seen as essential partners in the interpreted communicative event (ICE). The author asserts that interpreters are influenced by social and institution factors during ICE. In the second chapter, the author asserts the need to provide adequate healthcare services for patients who have limited English competency and explore how the doctor-patient relationship is essential to produce effective communication.

In the third chapter, the author explores three different lenses to understand interpreters roles: (1) the lens of society and the institution based on social theory, (2) the lens of the interaction based on sociological theory, and (3) the lens of discourse based on linguistic anthropology.

From the fourth chapter to the seventh, the author utilizes a public hospital California Hope (CH) as a case study to explore the roles and practices for interpreters. The author describes the research design, subjects, and process first. In chapter five, the author collects both quantitative and qualitative data from 392 ICEs at CH by spending twenty-two months studying ten interpreters. After analyzing the data, in chapter six the findings of the linguistic and communicative strategies used by interpreters are various. They reveal interpreters have different levels of visibility. In chapter seven, the author sorts out the role of interpreters by analyzing their true voices from semi-structured interviews.

Based on the analysis, in chapter eight, the author comes out with four metaphors for interpreters: (1) interpreters as detectives, (2) interpreters as multi-purpose bridges, (3) interpreters as diamond connoisseurs, and (4) interpreters as miners. The implications of theory development in integrating all of the complexities of the communicative event and in including the act of interpreting with its entire context are provided. In the conclusion, the author poses concerns and a strong statement for the readers to pay more attention to events of cross-cultural communication and make efforts to change the invisibility of interpreters in ICEs to actively visible.

In general, the book is highly informative. It is thoroughly done in the process of research design with a case study approach, and the findings are important to enrich the current literature on interpreting in a medical setting. The following suggestion might help the readers to form a better understanding for the book. In the fifth chapter, the qualitative data analysis may need more elaborations to conclude the findings. It is needed to present the analysis with a more organized and easy-to-read way. Taking this question into account, readers will no doubt treasure this book as an important case study reference book that illustrates what roles interpreters play in ICEs at a public hospitals.