Judging likelihood of outcomes in health communication: How does Russian bilinguality affect the interpretation of risk and certainty adverbs in English?

Thematic Section: Consequences of bilingualism: Embracing the complexity

sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, creativity, attrition, emotion

Renata F.I. Meuter, School of Psychology and Counselling, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia
Vanda Nissen, School of Psychology and Counselling, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia

Miscommunication in healthcare often results in poor health outcomes and it is increasingly likely to occur given the growing numbers of patients and health practitioners worldwide that have to negotiate linguistic and cultural barriers when discussing health concerns. When communicating the likelihood of health outcomes, practitioners often use epistemic adverbs (e.g., possibly, likely etc.). Previous work revealed that monolingual English speakers in Canada and Australia differ subtly in their understanding of these adverbs in English (Segalowitz et al., 2016), and for bilingual speakers of French and English (as first (L1) or second language (L2)) a differential impact of L1-French and L2-French status (Meuter et al., 2020). Here we explore whether, and how, bilinguality in another Indo-European language (Balto-Slavic), impacts the semantic representation of epistemic adverbs. Accordingly, we compared Russian-English bilinguals (in Australia and Russia) and monolingual English speakers (in Australia) using a dissimilarity-rating task consisting of sentence pairs, presented as doctors’ opinions differing only with respect to the embedded epistemic adverb. Analyses of the dissimilarity ratings, using a combination of cultural consensus analysis (factor analysis across participants), weighted-data classical-MDS, and cluster analysis, will establish within- and across-community consistencies and differences in the semantic mapping of risk and certainty when Russian is the ‘other’ language (L1 or L2) in English comprehension. Given cultural differences in risk expression (Wierzbicka, 2006; 2008), we expect some group differences, possibly affected by the immediate cultural context. Our findings have theoretical implications and will inform the training of health practitioners working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations.