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I S S U E    N O .    48    [ September  2 0 1 0]

Akin Odebunmi

Code selection at first meetings: A pragmatic analysis of doctor-client conversations in Nigeria   

Existing studies on doctor-client interactions have mainly focused on monolingual encounters and the interactional effects and functions of the languages used in the communication between doctors and their clients. These studies have neither examined the several codes employed in single encounters and their pragmatic roles nor given attention to communication at doctor-client first meetings. This paper closes this vacuum by cataloguing the generic structure of the interactions at first meetings in Nigerian hospitals and examining the pragmatic features and functions of the codes used by doctors and clients at the different units of the generic structure. Ten interactions were sampled from 75 audio-recorded doctor-client interactions in selected state government-owned and private hospitals in Southwestern Nigeria. The transcripts were analysed with insights from theoretical perspectives on code selection, Stephen Levinson’s notion of activity types and Skirant Sarangi’s concept of discourse types. Four stages characterise doctor-client interactions at first meetings in Nigerian hospitals: Opening, Diagnostic Interaction, Announcement and Closing. While Diagnostic Interaction is obligatory, all the others are optional. Each of the stages is characterised by sub-stages/units that are largely optional. Two code selection types run through the generic structure of the interactions, namely, non-strategic and strategic. Non-strategic choices are necessitated by cultural and institutional routines, and linguistic routines. Strategic choices are characterised by context-shaping and context determined acts. The former acts are marked by code negotiation cues while the latter are characterised by institutional and local contextual constraints. Codes are selected at the non-strategic level to express phatic communion, indicate deference and display personal styles. At the strategic level, they are employed to accommodate dispreferred code choices, relax tension, flaunt competence, assure, save face, joke, reformulate and warn. Code choices, non-strategic and strategic, are very vital tools in gaining access to the events at doctorclient first meetings. The phenomenon of code selection reflects the multi-code nature of the interactions, shows the culture-institution nexus that governs the meetings, reveals linguistic flexibilities despite the dominance of English in the Nigerian orthodox medical institution and presents a context-sensitive communicative terrain that permits linguistic and goal negotiations. Future research can compare codes at first and subsequent meetings, and investigate the point of contact between first meetings in African and Western hospital interactions.
Key words: Doctor-client conversations; activity type; discourse type; generic structure; nonstrategic/ strategic code selections; context-shaping/context-determined acts
 To cite this publication:

Akin Odebunmi: Code selection at first meetings: A pragmatic analysis of doctor-client conversations in Nigeria, InLiSt - Interaction and Linguistic Structures, No. 48, September 2010, URL: <http://www.inlist.uni-bayreuth.de/issues/48/InLiSt48.pdf>



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