JoLIE 11:1/2018


Back to issue page







Gabriela Cusen

Transilvania University of Brașov, Romania






Interruptions in various areas of spoken interaction have been the focus of research which deals with such issues as power and dominance or gender. More recently this focus seems to have been on the many functions interruptions can hold. One research area in which interruptions may have been given less attention is that of doctor-patient interactions (see for example, Menz, & Al-Roubaie 2008). This paper investigates the issue of interruptions in medical interviews and how they can be related to power and gender. The area of medical consultations has been chosen for this investigation since it is a domain which has been subject to a substantial body of ethnographic or qualitative research from a range of standpoints. It also seems to be a setting which is familiar to many of us and does not require a lengthy introduction or explanation. The discussion of interruptions in institutional talk, in the medical context in this case, draws from ethnomethodology and conversation analysis which have been increasingly concerned with ‘institutional interaction’ and in particular ‘talk at work’ (e.g. Boden, & Zimmerman 1991, Drew, & Heritage 1992). Medical practice and the delivery of health care has become a particular focus of such studies and there is a growing body of studies of talk and interaction dealing with interruptions in medical consultations. In this paper I wish to address the issue of interruptions from three perspectives. First, interruptions are here dealt with in relation to the various types of such overlapping sequences described in the literature for example in the work of Murata 1994 or James, & Clarke 1993. Second, they are investigated from the highly controversial perspective of how male and female conversational partners seem to behave differently or not when interrupting each other. Third, interruptions in medical consultations are here regarded as means of control and domination in encounters in which some of the participants seem to hold a power position and others a subordinate one (Fairclough 1989). The data corpus analysed from these three perspectives consists of 21 medical consultations recorded with the consent of two physicians, an ophthalmologist and a paediatric orthopaedist, and that of their patients. In a previous study, a pilot qualitative context-bound analysis of two of these medical consultations was conducted in order to inform the main study discussed here which is based on the whole corpus. The findings of this preliminary analysis demonstrated that it seems possible to use an existing analytical framework (Menz, & Al-Roubaie 2008) for the identification of types of interruptions characteristic of medical interviews in the Romanian context. Starting from these findings, the results of the main study show that some of the types of interruptions discussed in the literature seem to be characteristic of the Romanian medical encounters in this corpus and that, due in no small way to the specific cultural context, the theoretical analytical framework may be amended. The findings related to the issues of gender and power, on the other hand, demonstrate that in this corpus there is no major difference in verbal interruptive behaviour between male and female participants in medical encounters. Finally, the study shows that this type of verbal behaviour is indeed a mark of power relations.


Keywords: Interruptions; Medical consultations; Power; Gender.





Beattie, G.W. (1981). Interruption in conversational interaction, and its relation to the sex and status of the interactants. Linguistics, 19(1-2), 15–35. DOI:


Boden, D., & Zimmerman, D.H. (Eds.). (1991). Talk and social structure. Oxford: Polity Press.


Coates, J. (1996). Women talk: Conversation between women friends. Oxford: Blackwell.


Coates, J. (2004). Women, men and language. Harlow: Pearson Longman.


Cook, G. (1995). Theoretical issues: transcribing the untranscribable. In G. Leech, G. Myers, & J. Thomas (Eds.), Spoken English on computer. Transcription, mark-up and application (pp. 35-54). London: Longman.


Crown, C. L., & Cummins, D. A. (1998). Objective versus perceived vocal interruptions in the dialogues of unacquainted pairs, friends and couples. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 17(3), 372-389. DOI:


Cusen, G. (2017). On interruptions in doctor-patient interactions: Who is the stranger here? Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica, 2 (Studies on Language and Linguistics) (in print).


Drew, P., & Heritage, J. (1992). Talk at work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Edwards, J.A. (1993). Principles and contrasting systems of discourse transcription. In J.A. Edwards, & M.D. Lampert (Eds.), Talking data. Transcription and coding in discourse research (pp.3-43). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.


Edwards, J.A. (1995). Principles and alternative systems in the transcription, coding and mark up of spoken discourse. In G. Leech, G. Myers, & J. Thomas (Eds.), Spoken English on computer. Transcription, mark-up and application (pp.19-35). London: Longman.


Fairclough, N. (1989). Language and power. London: Longman.


Hughes, E.C. (1971). The sociological eye. Chicago: Aldine.


James, D., & Clarke, S. (1993). Women, men, and interruptions: A critical review. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Gender and conversational interaction (pp.231–280). New York: Oxford University Press.


Jefferson, G. (1973). A case of precision timing in ordinary conversation: overlapped tag-positioned address terms in closing sequences. Semiotica, 9, 47–96. DOI:


Kasper, G., & Wagner, J. (2014). Conversation analysis in applied linguistics. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 34, 171-212. DOI:


Kotthoff, H. (2011). Sociolinguistic potentials of face-to-face interaction. In R. Wodak, B. Johnstone, & P. Kerswill (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of sociolinguistics (pp.315-330). UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.


LaFrance, M. (1992). Gender and interruptions: Individual infraction or violation of the social order? Psychology of women quarterly, 16, 497–512. DOI:


Lakoff, R. (1973). The logic of politeness; or, minding your P`s and Q`s. In C. Corum, T. Cedric Smith-Stark, & A. Weiser (Eds.), Papers from the ninth regional meeting of the Chicago linguistics society (pp 292–305). Chicago: Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago.


Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper and Row.


Menz, F., & Al-Roubaie, A. (2008). Interruptions, status and gender in medical interviews: the harder you brake, the longer it takes. Discourse & Society, 19(5), 645-666. DOI:


Mishler, E.G., & Waxler, N.E. (1968). Interaction in families: an experimental study of family processes and schizophrenia. New York: Wiley.


Murata, K. (1994). Intrusive or cooperative? A cross-cultural study of interruption. Journal of Pragmatics, 21, 385–400. DOI:


Schegloff, E. (2000). Overlapping talk and the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language in Society, 29(1), 1–63.


Silverman, D. (2000). Doing qualitative research. A practical handbook. London: Sage.


Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: Wm. Morrow.


van Dijk, T.A. (1985). Introduction: Dialogue as Discourse and Interaction. In T.A. van Dijk (Ed.), Handbook of discourse analysis, Vol 3: Discourse and dialogue (pp.1-11). London: Academic Press.


West, C., & Zimmerman, D. (1983). Small insults: a study of interruptions in cross-sex conversations between unacquainted persons. In B. Thorne, C. Kramarae, & N. Henley (Eds.), Language, gender and society (pp.86-111). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.


Yieke, F.A. (2002). Language and discrimination: A study of gender and discourse in work places in Kenya (Unpublished dissertation, University of Vienna, Austria). Retrieved from:


Zimmerman, D., & West, C. (1975). Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversations. In B. Thorne, & N. Henley (Eds.), Language and sex: Difference and dominance (pp.105-129). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.



How to cite this article: Cusen, G. (2018). Interruptions in medical consultations: issues of power and gender. Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education – JoLIE, 11(1), 49-66. DOI:



For details on subscription, go to: