The Language of Pain in Bolivian Spanish and Quechua

The ability to feel pain is universal to all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age. It has been shown, however, that the exact nature of one’s pain experience is all but universal and can differ greatly depending on cultural identity and other social factors, which also results in different ways of expressing or describing pain. This can sometimes lead to difficulties in doctor-patient communication when medical practitioners are unaware of linguistic differences between their own and their patients’ language. It is therefore important to know how different languages categorize and conceptualize pain-related expressions and where communication issues could arise when generalizing from one’s own native language.
In order to contribute to this endeavor, this project is concerned with pain expressions in Bolivian Spanish and Quechua, which are spoken by the mestizo/white and Quechua people of Bolivia respectively. It will attempt to answer the following questions:
How do the Bolivian Quechua and mestizo culture differ in regards to their beliefs and experience with pain?
Do these cultural differences reflect in their languages?
How can typological knowledge of pain expressions be used to improve intercultural doctor-patient communication?
For this purpose, several field studies will be conducted in the Cochabamba department of Andean Bolivia with the goal of eliciting language data on pain expressions in Bolivian Spanish and Quechua, testing hypotheses about the effect of culture on pain expressions, conducting interviews with Bolivians of mestizo/white and Quechua ethnicity regarding pain communication issues, and collaborating with medical practitioners on improving doctor-patient communication by overcoming language barriers.

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