Modality resources in Spanish during psychiatric interviews with Mexican patients


  • Dalia Magaña University of California



Spanish modalization, health disparities, psychiatric interview, interpersonal communication, pragmatics, mitigation


This study examines modality in doctor–patient interactions during psychiatric interviews. Twenty three interviews were conducted in Spanish and were video-recorded. The patients are members of a small community in rural California. Using the interpersonal metafunction (Eggins 2004; Halliday 1994) and approaches in pragmatics literature this work reveals the lexicogrammatical choices the patients and the doctor make using both qualitative analysis and quantitative analysis. Spanish modalization can be realized through modal operators (e.g. might), mood adjuncts (e.g. possibly), and the conditional and future tenses. In addition to these, oral contexts have alternative forms of expressing modalization such as using the preposition como ‘like’ and tag questions (e.g. right?) as the pragmatics literature has described. This work makes a methodological contribution by highlighting the analytical tools that alternative approaches to discourse analysis (pragmatics in this case) make available and how they complement the interpersonal metafunction. The results of this study reveal that patients use modalization at particular moments in the interview, for instance when discussing their symptoms and conditions to deliver their information carefully and to recognize the social status of the doctor. The doctor also strategically uses modalization when he asks sensitive questions in order to displace responsibility from the patients and avoid a face-threatening situation.

Author Biography

Dalia Magaña, University of California

Dalia Magaña received her Ph.D. in Spanish Linguistics from the University of California, Davis and is currently Assistant Professor at University of California, Merced. Her research concerns the language of medical interactions, language and identity among bilinguals and advanced literacy among heritage language speakers.


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How to Cite

Magaña, D. (2017). Modality resources in Spanish during psychiatric interviews with Mexican patients. Communication and Medicine, 13(3), 291–305.