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unintelligibility, interdiscursivity, ethnomedicine, ritual, mediation, Senegal


‘Unintelligibility’ is not an on–o¢¥ phenomenon, but rather a processual, bydegrees, and phase-relative phenomenon, as recent literature has demonstrated. With these facts in mind, this article approaches ‘unintelligibility’ in terms of discourse ‘accessibility’, emphasizing especially how ‘access’ is regulated in multiple ways (not only through language), and how it centrally involves changes in participation structure. Using a Senegalese ethnomedical encounter as my focus, I examine how the verbal and nonverbal regulation of accessibility helps bring into play forms of mediation, where the interactant conferring access o¢¥ers to the patient both expert knowledge and contact with incorporeal beings. During a divination phase, a phase of maximum inaccessibility, contact with these beings comes to be presupposed in the healer’s discourse as he positions himself as a mediator who stands between the patient and the unseen sources of advice and curative power. By making the inaccessible accessible over phases of the encounter, the healer both invokes expert knowledge and constructs an interdiscursive figure, a virtual ‘speech-chain’ structure, in which his verbal (and nonverbal) contributions become links designed to convey curative power and blessings from incorporeal beings to the patient in the immediate speech event.

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