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Talk on 'Corpus Linguistics and Health Communication' at Georgetown University

Activity: External academic engagementInvited talk

11/04/2014

Abstract

In this talk I show how the methods of Corpus Linguistics are being applied to the study of health communication in two current projects at Lancaster University. The ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’ project (funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council) combines ‘manual’ analysis and corpus linguistic methods in a large-scale study of the metaphors used by terminally ill patients, unpaid family carers and healthcare professionals to talk about the experience of end of life care. Among other things, the use of a semantic annotation tool has resulted in a new account of the controversial ‘war metaphor’ in relation to (terminal) illness, especially as used by patients in our data. This has implications for training and practice in the provision of end-of-life care. Corpus methods are also being applied to the assessment of a language-based tool for the diagnosis of chronic pain, the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ). The MPQ includes 78 one-word descriptors of pain, such as ‘sharp’ and ‘burning’. The findings of a corpus-based analysis of the use of each descriptor in English generally were correlated with the choices made by 300 patients who completed the questionnaire at a London Hospital. It has been found that differences in the general linguistic behaviour of the 78 descriptors seem to interfere with patients’ choices in ways that undermine the MPQ’s effectiveness as a diagnostic tool. Further corpus-based research will result in a fuller assessment of the MPQ, and in the creation of a new, more reliable version of the questionnaire. On the basis of the achievements of both projects, I argue that corpus linguistic methods can make an important contribution to the study of health communication, and to research-based interventions in healthcare practices.