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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Volume 34, Issue 4


Conversational openings and multiparty disambiguations in doctors' encounters with young patients (and their parents)

Camilla Rindstedt
Published Online: 2014-06-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2014-0010


Drawing on a video ethnography at a pediatric unit at a Swedish children's hospital, this study presents analyses of “How are you” (HAY) routines and problem elicitations. Such conversational openings are ambiguous in that they can either be read as casual greetings, or as genuine questions about the patient's health. Moreover, there is a double ambiguity in that the doctor, at times, employs third person pronouns (e.g., “How is Elinor?”) or second person plurals (e.g., “So how are you doing?”) which means that there is a second type of ambiguity, an ambiguity around who is addressed: the child and/or the parent(s). This study also shows that there is a great variation in conversational openings according to the age of the child in that the odds that the doctor might invite the child as a conversational partner increase with the child's age. The preschool children almost never respond to the doctor's HAY, and it does not matter if it is an ambiguous or unambiguous question. If they answer, it is in the form of a minimal uptake or after a whole series of questions. In contrast, the schoolchildren always respond to the doctors' HAY and offer quite elaborate and detailed responses.

Keywords: doctor–patient interactions; greeting routines; problem presentations; pediatrics; children's perspectives; video ethnography

About the article

Camilla Rindstedt

Camilla Rindstedt received her PhD in child studies from Linköping University and is currently Associate Professor in Child and Youth Studies at Stockholm University. Her research interests include language socialization, video ethnography, child's perspective. She has published in Communication & Medicine, Mind, Culture and Activity, Childhood, Child: Care, Health and Development, Language in Society. Address for correspondence: Department of Child and Youth Studies, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden 〈camilla.rindstedt@buv.su.se〉.

Published Online: 2014-06-27

Published in Print: 2014-07-01

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 34, Issue 4, Pages 421–442, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2014-0010.

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